Category Archives: private funding

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.

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.

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.