Category Archives: States

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

 

Hospital Outpatient Payments Rising — Again

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) released a study today that indicated that hospital outpatient payments were higher and growing faster in states with percent-of-charge-based fee regulations or no fee schedules.

This study is an annual study that compares hospital payments for a group of common outpatient surgeries in workers’ compensation across 35 states from 2005 to 2016.

According to WCRI’s executive vice president and counsel, Ramona Tanabe, “Rising hospital costs continue to be a focus for public policymakers and system stakeholders in many states.”

The study found that states with percent-of-charge-based fee regulations had substantially higher hospital outpatient payments per surgical episode than states with fixed-amount fee schedules.

Percent-of-charge-based states were 30 — 196% higher than median of the states with fixed-amount fee schedules in 2016.

States without fee schedules also had higher payments per episode; 38 — 143% higher than the median of fixed-amount states in 2016.

Lastly, WCRI found that hospital payments per episode in most states with percent-of charge-based fee regulations or no fee schedules, grew faster than states with fixed-amount fee schedules.

The study also compared payments for workers’ comp with Medicare rates for the most common group of surgical procedures across states. The following chart highlights the variation in the difference between average workers’ comp payments and Medicare rates. The variation was as low as 38%, or $2,012 below Medicare in Nevada, and as high as 502%, or $21,692 above Medicare in Alabama.

Source: WCRI

So, what does this mean?

It means that hospital outpatient payments for the most common group of surgical procedures in Workers’ Comp are not decreasing, and are likely adding to the slow, but steady rise in the overall total average medical cost for lost-time claims, a development I have followed for some time now with the release of NCCI’s State of the Line Reports.

This is not the first time I have discussed this topic, and probably won’t be the last, as I keep reminding you that surgical costs for most common workers’ comp surgeries are a fraction of the cost here in the US in countries that provide medical travel services.

If this study is right, wouldn’t you rather pay for a surgical procedure in Costa Rica, for example, that costs $12—$13,000, than paying $21,692 in Alabama? Eighteen out of thirty-five states listed on the above chart have higher payments than the median of 100. This represents 51.4% of all the states examined in the study. Just more than half.

And this idea of medical travel is stupid, ridiculous, and a non-starter? Ok, keep shelling out more money for hospital outpatient procedures. After all, it ain’t your money, is it?

To download this study, visit WCRI’s website at https://www.wcrinet.org/reports/hospital-outpatient-payment-index-interstate-variations-and-policy-analysis-7th-edition.

Mad Dog Attacks Public Transport

Tom Lynch of LynchRyan’s Workers’ Comp Insider blog, wrote an article this morning that follows on the heels of my post from yesterday about the Justice Department not defending portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to Tom, the GOP finally figured out how to fight the ACA, and he discusses three events beginning with February of last year in which the GOP-led Congress attacked the ACA. The three events are:

February 2017 – tax cut law that zeroed out the penalty for not having insurance.

February 2018 – getting 20 states to sue the federal government and contend that repeal of the penalty obviates the individual mandate making the entirety of the ACA unconstitutional.

And just last month, as I wrote yesterday, got the Justice Department to not defend the government in the suit.

Tom continues to say that if the 20 states win, pre-existing conditions, which the ACA protects, goes out the window. There are about 133 million Americans under the age of 65 who fall into that category. I am one of them.

Insurance companies are not happy either, Tom reports, and the trade association for the health insurance companies, America’s Health Insurance Plans, supports the provision under the ACA, and is quoted thus: “Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019,” according to a statement released by AHIP.

Finally, Tom asks the question — what happens if the 20 states win their suit? His answer, the 1.25 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes are waiting for an answer.

Yet, they and others don’t really have to wait for an answer, because the answer is staring us right in the face, but we refuse to see it, or even acknowledge its presence. Instead, we keep doing the same things over and over again, thinking the free market has the answer.

That is patently not true. A real, comprehensive, universal single payer system or an improved Medicare for All system that does not force those who are ill and don’t have a lot of money to pay for parts of the coverage, either the medical portion, or the 20% not now covered by Medicare, is the answer. Anything less is just a dog chasing a bus, catching that bus, and the dog and bus getting hurt.

Social Determinants Of Health: A Public Health Concept In Conflict

Source: Social Determinants Of Health: A Public Health Concept In Conflict

ACA Gains Reversing

The Commonwealth Fund reported today that the marked gains in health insurance coverage made since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 are beginning to reverse.

This is according to new findings from the latest Commonwealth Fund ACA Tracking Survey.

According to the survey, the coverage declines are likely the result of two major factors:

1) lack of federal legislative actions to improve specific weaknesses in the ACA and

2) actions by the current administration that have exacerbated those weaknesses. These include the administration’s deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period, and other actions that collectively may have left people with a general sense of confusion about the status of the law.

Here are the key findings:

*  About 4 million working-age people have lost insurance coverage since 2016
*  The uninsured rates among lower-income adults rose from 20.9 percent in 2016 to 25.7 percent in March 2018
*  The uninsured rate among working-age adults increased to 15.5 percent
*  The uninsured rate among adults in states that did not expand Medicaid rose to 21.9 percent
*  The uninsured rate increased among adults age 35 and older
*  The uninsured rate among adults who identify as Republicans is higher compared to 2016
*  The uninsured rate remains highest in southern states
*  Five percent of insured adults plan to drop insurance because of the individual mandate repeal
What are the policy implications of this reversal?
The absence of bipartisan support for federal action has seen legislative activity shifted to the states.
Broadly, the leaving of policy innovation to states will lead to a patchwork quilt of coverage and access to health care across the country. It will fuel inequity in overall health, productivity, and well-being.
Folks, as I wrote about in What’s Really Wrong With Health Care? and Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform, until we see a change in the consciousness of both the American people, their representatives in Congress, and in Corporate America, especially within the financial industry to radically alter the direction health care is heading, the situation will only get worse.
We need to get the money and the greed and the corporations out of health care altogether. We need a single payer system that does not proletarianize physicians, does not turn health care into a commodity, does not financialize it, commercialize it, and compromise it for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment to the many.
As this is May Day, the international workers’ day, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start moving in that direction, as so many other nations have already done?

CMS Proposes to Allow States to Define Health Benefits

A connection of mine today posted a link to a CMS Fact Sheet in which they propose to allow states to define essential health benefits beginning January 1, 2019.

According to the fact sheet, this rule is intended to increase flexibility in the individual market, improve program integrity, and reduce regulatory burdens associated with the PPACA in the individual and small group markets. (See my post, “Regulation Strangulation“)

The rule also includes proposals that would provide states with more options in how the essential health benefits (EHBs) are defined for their state, it would also enhance the role of states related to qualified health plan (QHP) certification, and to provide states with additional flexibility in the operation and establishment of Exchanges, particularly the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges.

Finally, they propose to permit states to reduce the magnitude of risk adjustment transfers in the small group market to minimize unnecessary burden, and proposes other changes that would streamline the Exchange consumer experience and the individual and small group markets.

What does this really mean?

Anytime the federal government attempts to allow the individual states to determine or define certain social benefits, we end up with a hodgepodge of rules, regulations, costs of impairment, etc.

We know that in certain states, the loss of a body part in one state has an impairment value different from the same body part in another state, according to the ProPublica report .

So when I see that CMS wants to allow states to define what essential health benefits are,  we have to ask ourselves, what do they mean by essential, and is one state’s essential health benefits, another state’s burden?

I understand that certain states, particularly so-called “Red” states with conservative governors and legislatures, will be free to decide that certain treatments and procedures are just too expensive for them to cover, or that they violate the ethical or moral sentiments of the community in the state, i.e., abortion, birth control, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Allowing states to define and decide what is essential and what is not, may be harmful to the health of many of their citizens, even if it saves the state money.

And I am rather leery of CMS’s desire to “strengthen” the individual or small group markets, because who decides what constitutes strengthening, and who makes those decisions and under what circumstances.

Rather than allowing legislators and governors to decide what medical care their citizens can receive in their state, rather than trying to shore up a market, whether it is the individual market or the group market, we should move to provide all Americans with the same health care and the same medical benefits, coast to coast, under a Medicare for All plan.

Anything less would be worse than what we have now, and would be more costly and more complex and confusing. This rule should be scraped.