Category Archives: premiums

Health Insurance Costs Accelerating for Workers | HealthLeaders Media

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Health Care Costs Rising for Workers. My post then cited a Kaiser study; this article references the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center.

On Monday, I reported that there is an effort underway to discredit the move towards single payer by various groups, and even Howard Schultz, the outgoing Chairman of Starbucks said the following back in June:

“It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don’t think that’s something realistic. I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises.”

So, if these two studies are accurate, and there is no way to prove they aren’t, then both Mr. Schultz and the various groups attempting to derail single payer, are only going to make things worse for workers, and for everyone else.

Oh, and by the way, there have been studies that indicated that we could afford single payer health care, especially a report sponsored by a Koch Brothers backed think tank, Mercatus.

So, consider the following from this Health Leaders article back in October of this year.

The average premium for employer-sponsored plans rose $267, or 4.4% between 2016 and 2017, which is twice the increase recorded between 2015 and 2016.

Source: Health Insurance Costs Accelerating for Workers | HealthLeaders Media

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Employer Insurance Costs Growing Burden for Middle Class

The Commonwealth Fund today released a report that stated that the cost of employer-based insurance is a growing burden on middle-class families.

In 2017, more than half (56%) of people under age 65, about 152 million people, had insurance through an employer, either their own or a family member’s. In contrast, only 9 percent had a plan purchased on the individual market, including the marketplaces.

Here are the highlights from that brief:

Highlights

* After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, average premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in 2017. Annual single-person premiums climbed above $7,000 in eight states; family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states and D.C.

* Rising overall employer premiums increased the amount that workers and their families contribute. Average annual premium contributions for single-person plans ranged from $675 in Hawaii to $1,747 in Massachusetts; family plans ranged from $3,646 in Michigan to $6,533 in Delaware.

* Average employee premium contributions across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008. In 11 states, premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.

* The average annual deductible for single-person policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire. Average deductibles across single and family plans amounted to 4.8 percent of median income in 2017, up from 2.7 percent in 2008. In three states (Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee), average deductibles comprised more than 6 percent of median income.

* Combined, average employee premium contributions and potential out-of-pocket spending to meet deductibles across single and family policies rose to $7,240 in 2017 and was $8,000 or more in eight states. Nationally, this potential spending amounted to 11.7 percent of median income in 2017, up from 7.8 percent a decade earlier. In Louisiana and Mississippi, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.

Worker payments for employer coverage are growing faster than median income.

The average employee premium cost across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008.

Average deductibles are also outpacing growth in median income.

In many states, even though costs are rising, people are not getting insurance that protects them more because deductibles are also increasing.

Still think that the free market works for health care? Guess again.

We are the only advanced nation that refuses to give its citizens universal health care like other similar nations do. This “growth” is unsustainable and will lead to single-payer health care.

 

Health Care Costs Rising for Workers

Axios is reporting that health care costs for workers is rising while overall costs of employer-based health benefits is growing modestly from year to year.

This is slowly eating up all of the average workers wage increases, and then some, as reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s  2018 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The survey covers the last ten years, from 2008 to 2018. Most of where the employees are paying for health care comes from deductibles, which has seen a +212% increase over that period, and is out of pocket. These costs, the survey said, is rising faster than inflation and wages.

Premiums for families have risen over this period +55%, while workers’ earnings have risen +26%, and inflation has risen +17%.

According to Kaiser, employees are paying an average of about $1,200 per year in premiums. That’s 65% more than what they paid in 2008, for single coverage plans that cover only the worker, no family members.

Besides the increase in deductibles, the number of employees who have a deductible has gone up, and the number of employees with above-average deductibles is up as well.

Three takeaways:

  • More patients are more attuned to the high costs of care.
  • The underlying cost of health care services is growing relatively slowly right now, compared to historical trends.
  • But there’s a sense, at least among some liberal-leaning health care experts, that employers have just about maxed out their ability to shift more costs onto employees — meaning that once price increases start to pick up steam again, businesses and workers will both feel the pain quickly.

What does this mean?

As workers’ wages are stagnant, and health care costs are rising, shifting the cost of health care onto the backs of workers is not only counterproductive to lowering the cost of health care, it puts an undue burden on those who can least afford to shell out more of their hard earned income on health care, especially when they have a serious medical issue to deal with.

Single payer will relieve the worker from having to pay out of pocket when wages are stagnant, and when wages rise again. This will enable them to have more money to spend on things that otherwise would have been prohibitive before.

To do no less is to saddle the working class with perpetual debt and decreased economic power. Not a good way to run an economy.

Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform

In my recent review of the Introduction to Health Care under the Knife, the term “neoliberalism” was discussed as one of the themes the authors explored in diagnosing the root causes of the failure of the American health care system.

For review, the term neoliberalism refers to a modern politico-economic theory favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services, etc. (Source: Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014)

As defined in Wikipedia, and as I wrote in my review, neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Those ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.

This recrudescence or resurgence gained momentum with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, and with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm election, which made Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House, and implemented the Contract with America. (I’ve called it the Contract on America, for obvious reasons)

Yet, the full impact of neoliberalism was not felt until the rise of the TEA Party in the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and that led to the Freedom Caucus in the House that has tried unsuccessfully multiple times to repeal and replace Obamacare with basically nothing.

Economist Said E. Dawlabani, in his book, MEMEnomics, describes the period from 1932 to 1980, which includes the post-war Keynesian consensus, as the second MEMEnomic cycle, or “Patriotic Prosperity” MEME. The current period, from 1980 to the present, represents the third MEMEnomic cycle, or the “Only Money Matters” MEME.

It is in this period that the American health care system underwent a radical transformation from what some used to call a “calling profession” to a full-fledged capitalist enterprise no different from any other industry. This recrudescence of 19th century economic policies did not spring forth in 1980 fully formed, but rather had existed sub-rosa in the consciousness of many American conservatives.

In the early 1970’s, Richard Nixon’s administration came up with the concept of the Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, as the first real attempt to apply neoliberalism to health care. As we shall see, this would not be the first time that neoliberal ideas would be implemented into health care reform.

In Chapter Seven, of their book, Health Care under the Knife, authors Howard Waitzkin and Ida Hellander, discuss the origins of Obamacare and the beginnings of neoliberal health care reform. They point to the year 1994 as a significant one for reform worldwide, as Colombia enacted a national program of “managed competition” that was mandated and partially funded by the World Bank. This reform replaced their prior health system and was based mostly on public hospitals and clinics.

1994 was also the year when then First Lady, Hillary Clinton spearheaded a proposal like the one Colombia enacted that was designed by the insurance industry. I am sure you all remember the Harry and Sally commercials that ran on television that sank her proposal before it ever saw the light of day?

What ultimately became Obamacare was the plan implemented in 2006 in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, but that was later disavowed when he ran for President in 2012. Waitzkin and Hellander write that even though these programs were framed to improve access for the poor and underserved, these initiatives facilitated the efforts of for-profit insurance companies providing “managed care.”

Insurance companies, they also said, profited by denying or delaying necessary care through strategies such as utilization review and preauthorization requirements; cost-sharing such as co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance, and pharmacy tiers; limiting access to only certain physicians; and frequent redesign of benefits.

These proposals, the authors state, fostered neoliberalism. They promoted competing for-profit private insurance corporations, programs and institutions based in the public sector were cut back, and possibly privatized. Government budgets for public-sector health care were cut, private corporations gained access to public trust funds, and public hospitals and clinics entered competition with private institutions, with budgets determined by demand rather than supply. Finally, prior global budgets for safety-net institutions were not guaranteed, and insurance executives made operational decisions about services, superseding the authority of physicians and other clinicians.

The roots of neoliberal health reform emerged from the Cold War military policy, and the authors cite economist Alain Enthoven providing much of the intellectual framework for those efforts. Enthoven was the Assistant Secretary of Defense under Robert S. McNamara during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. While he was at the Pentagon, between 1961 and 1969, he led a group of analysts who developed the “planning-programming-budgeting-system” (PPBS) and cost-benefit analysis, that intended to promote more cost-effective spending decisions for military expenditures. Enthoven became the principal architect, the authors indicate, of “managed competition”, which became the prevailing model for the Clinton, Romney, and Obama health care reforms, as well as the neoliberal reforms around the world.

The following table highlights the complementary themes in the military PPBS and managed competition in health care.

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Sources: See note 11, page 273.

Enthoven continued to campaign for his idea throughout the 1970s and 1980s and collaborated with managed care and insurance executives to refine the proposal after being rejected by the Carter administration. The group that met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which included Enthoven and Paul Ellwood, was funded by the five largest insurance corporations, as well as the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, and wife Hillary’s Health Security Act.

The authors state that Barack Obama, while a state legislator in Illinois, favored a single payer approach, but changed his position as a presidential candidate. In 2008, he received the largest financial contributions in history from the insurance industry, that was three times more the contributions of his rival, John McCain.

The neoliberal health agenda, the authors write, including Obamacare, emerged as one component of a worldwide agenda developed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international financial institutions. The agenda to promote market-driven health care, facilitated access to public-sector health and social security trust funds by multinational corporations, according to Waitzkin and Hellander. The various attempts in the US by the Republican Party to privatize Social Security is an example of this agenda.

An underlying ideology claimed that corporate executives could achieve superior quality and efficiency by “managing” medical services in the marketplace, but without any evidence to support it, the authors contend. Health reform proposals from different countries have resembled one another closely and conform to a cookie-cutter template. Table 2 describes the six features of nearly all neoliberal reform initiatives.

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† Sources: patients, employers, public sector trust (“solidarity”) funds (the latter being “contributory” for employed workers, and “subsidized” for low income and unemployed).
‡ Sources: patients, public sector trust funds – Medicaid, Medicare.

The six features of neoliberal health reform are as follows:

  1. Organizations of providers – large, privately controlled organizations of health care providers, operate under direct control or strong influence of private insurance corporations, in collaboration with hospitals and health systems, may employ health care providers directly, or may contract with providers in a preferred network. In Obamacare, they are called Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), supported only in Medicare, but Obamacare accelerated organizational consolidation in anticipation of broader implementation.

In this model, for-profit managed care organizations (MCOs) offer health plans competitively. In reality, competition is restrained by the small number of organizations large enough to meet the new laws’ financial and infrastructure requirements, as well as by the consolidation in the private insurance industry. They contract with or employ large numbers of health practitioners. Instead, physicians and hospitals are absorbed into MCOs.

  1. Organizations of purchasers – large organizations purchasing or facilitating the purchase of private health insurance, usually through MCOs. Under Obamacare, the federal and state health insurance “exchanges”—later renamed “marketplaces” to reflect reality of private, government-subsidized corporations—fulfill a similar role.
  2. Constriction of public hospitals and safety net providers – public hospitals at the state, county, or municipal levels compete for patients covered under public programs like Medicaid or Medicare with private, for-profit hospitals participating as subsidiaries or contractors of insurance companies or MCOs. With less public-sector funding, public hospitals reduce services and programs, and many eventually close. Under Obamacare, multiple public hospitals have closed or have remained on the brink of closure. Note: This is a subject I have written about in prior posts about Medicaid expansion.
  3. Tiered benefits packages – defined in hierarchical terms, minimum package of benefits viewed as essential, individuals and employers can buy additional coverage, poor and near poor in Medicaid eligible for benefits that used to be free of cost-sharing, but since Obamacare passed, states have imposed premiums and co-payments. Under Obamacare, various metal names—bronze, silver, gold, platinum, identify tiers of coverage, where bronze represents the lowest tier and platinum the highest.
  4. Complex multi-payer and multi-payment financing – financial flows under neoliberal health policies are complex (see Chart 7.1). There are four sources of these various financial flows.
    1. Outflow of payments – each insured person considered a “head” for whom a “capitation” must be paid to an insurance company or MCO.
    2. Inflow of funds – funds for capitation payments come from several sources. Premiums paid by workers and their families, contributions from employers is a second source. Public-sector trust funds are a third source, co-payments and deductibles constitute a fourth source, and taxes are a fifth source.
  5. Changes in the tax code – neoliberal reforms usually lead to higher taxes because they increase administrative costs and profits, Obamacare reduces tax deductions and imposes a tax for so-called Cadillac insurance plans. In addition, it calls for penalties for those who do not purchase mandatory coverage, administered by the IRS. I was unable to get on the ACA because I had not filed a return in several years due to long-term unemployment because of the financial collapse of 2007/2008, and the subsequent jobless recovery.

Chart 7.1 Financial Flows under Neoliberal Health Reform

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*Purchase of insurance policies for employers and patients mediated by large organizations of health care purchasers.

What is the outlook for single payer in the US, the authors ask?

They cite national polls that show that about two-thirds of people in the US favor single payer. See Joe Paduda’s post here.

If the US were to adopt single payer, the PNHP proposal would provide coverage for all needed services universally, including medications and long-term care, no out-of-pocket premiums, co-payments, or deductibles; costs would be controlled by “monopsony” financing from a single, public source, would not permit competing private insurance and would eliminate multiple tiers of care for different income groups; practitioners and clinics would be paid predetermined fees for services without and need for costly billing procedures; hospitals would negotiate an annual global budget for all operating costs, for-profit, investor-owned facilities would be prohibited from participating; most nonprofit hospitals would remain privately owned, capital purchases and expansion would be budgeted separately, based on regional health-planning goals.

Funding sources would include, they add, would include current federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid, a payroll tax on private businesses less than what businesses currently pay for coverage, an income tax on households, with a surtax on high incomes and capital gains, a small tax of stock transactions, while state and local taxes for health care would be eliminated.

From the viewpoint of corporations, the insurance and financial sectors would lose a major source of capital accumulation, other large and small businesses would experience a stabilization or reduction in health care costs. Years ago, when I first considered single payer, I realized that if employers no longer had to pay for health care for their employees, they could use those funds to employ more workers and thus limit the impact of recessions and jobless recoveries.

So how do we move to single payer and beyond?

According to the authors, and to this reporter, the coming failure of Obamacare will become a moment of transition in the US, where neoliberalism has come home to roost. This transition is not just limited to health care. The theory of Spiral Dynamics, of which I have written about in the past, predicts that at the final stage of the first tier, or Existence tier, the US currently occupies, there will be a leap to the next stage or tier, that being the Being tier, where all the previous value systems have been transcended and included into the value systems of the Being tier.

We will need to address, the authors contend, with the shifting social class position of health professionals and to the increasingly oligopolistic and financialized character of the health insurance industry. The transition beyond Obamacare, they point out, will need to address also the consolidation of large health systems. Obamacare has increased the flow of capitated public and private funds into the insurance industry and extended the overall financialization of the global economy.

The authors conclude the chapter by declaring that as neoliberalism draws to a close, and as Obamacare fails, a much more fundamental transformation needs to reshape not just health care, but also the capitalist state and society.

To sum it all up, all the attempts cure the ills of health care by treating the symptoms and not the cause of the disease will not only fail, but is only making the disease worse, and the patient getting sicker. We need radical intervention before the patient succumbs to the greed and avarice of Wall Street, big business, and those whose stake in the status quo is to blame for the condition the patient is in in the first place.

Therefore, Obamacare is the last stage of neoliberal health care reform.

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.

Fallout of the End of ACA Subsidies

Joe Paduda today gave a very succinct and clear-minded assessment of the fallout of the ending of the ACA subsidies, also known as Cost-Sharing Reimbursement (CSR) payments.

Here is Joe’s article.

It makes perfect sense that what the Orange man said yesterday will do more damage to health care than his false and misleading pronouncements of the past year that the ACA is failing and doing harm.

It is you, sir, who are doing harm. To the poor, to minorities like those in Puerto Rico despite your morning mea culpa, to African-Americans and Latinos,  to women, to international agreements and organizations,  and to our credibility with our allies and adversaries.

 

The Wisdom of Solomon?

You all know the story of King Solomon in the Bible where he was called upon to settle a dispute between two women, each claiming to be the mother of a baby. Solomon’s “solution” was to order the baby be cut in half, so that each mother would have half a baby. But when she realized what this would mean, the real mother spoke up and spared the child from being split in two.

Well, something posted today on LinkedIn, sort of reminded me of that story. Rather than paraphrasing it, I am posting the item here for you.

Trump plans to split Obamacare in two

President Trump plans to sign an executive order this week that takes aim at the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, according to sources. Among the changes, the order would give individuals and small businesses in association health plans more options to opt in for lower-cost — albeit less comprehensive — plans not allowed under the ACA, leaving older and sicker individuals with fewer options and pricier premiums. It would also provide short-term insurance for up to a year, reversing the three-month deadline put forth by the previous administration. If the order is signed, the market could divide in two, adding more difficulties to traditional markets under the ACA while opening the door to new types of insurance.

It seems the Orangutan now fancies himself with the wisdom of Solomon in regard to dealing with the “problem” of getting rid of the ACA. Like the two women in the story, the two parties in Congress each claim their own view of health reform, and since neither side is getting their way, the Orange King is doing it for them by signing an Executive Order.

And like the proverbial baby, splitting health care in two solves nothing. But don’t let that stop the Orangutan. He’s the wisest person there ever was, or didn’t you know that?