Category Archives: Uninsurance

COVID-19 and America’s Social Safety Net

Friday’s HuffPost published an article by Emily Peck on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on the country’s broken social safety net.

The article indicates that millions of working Americans do not get paid sick days. It also states that a stunning 70% of low-wage workers and one of three workers in the private sector, have no access to paid sick time.

According to Ms. Peck, the US is one of the few countries in the world without a national paid sick leave policy. In addition, she adds, millions of Americans do not have health insurance, or their policies are designed to keep them away from doctors with high co-payments and deductibles.

Both these issues, Ms. Peck writes, highlights how coronavirus, or COVID-19, could test the US’ uniquely weak social safety net.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the executive director of MomsRising, a nonprofit advocating for paid leave is quoted in the article, “Right now we’re looking at a situation where we have a lack of policies that most other countries take for granted that protect their public health.”

This isn’t just a “coronavirus” problem, Ms. Peck says. Even though the CDC warned Americans earlier in the week, so far there have been very few case reported in the US. (Note: As of this writing,  there have been 74 reported cases in the US, and two men have died in Washington State, and one case was recently reported in Rhode Island, and one in Manhattan)

Yet, fears of an outbreak has put a spotlight on the public health system. With cuts to many agencies by Trump, many experts fear that we will be unable to deal with the crisis, especially since the Trump called it a hoax at a recent political rally.

He also appointed his evolution-denying Vice President, Mike Pence to coordinate the Administration’s response after gagging several Administration personnel from appearing on the Sunday talk shows. It was mentioned after the announcement that Pence did not believe that smoking causes cancer when he was Governor of Indiana.

For the Democrats, says Ms. Peck, coronavirus makes the case for policies like universal health care and paid sick and family leave.

Some key points to consider:

First, flu rates are higher without sick leave. What about coronavirus?

In the US, the article reports, just 10 states, 20 cities and three counties have some kind of paid sick leave. This is compared with the rest of the world, where more than 145 countries have this benefit. People who live in those places, research shows, are less likely to get sick, Ms. Peck reports.

And lack of paid sick leave is certainly a “risk factor”, according to Nicolas Ziebarth, associate professor in health economics at Cornell. Professor Ziebarth’s 2019 paper in the Journal of Public Economics, looked at Google data on flu rates, compared cities with leave policies with those without, and found that flu rates were 5% lower in places with sick leave.

An upcoming paper of Professor Ziebarth’s, based on CDC data, has found that the rates are actually 11% lower.

For those workers in low-wage jobs, if they get sick, they cannot afford to take time off of work because they are barely getting by. So, they end up going to work, and they get their co-workers sick.

Working from home isn’t an option.

Many companies are telling employees to work from home with the threat from coronavirus. However, for low-wage hourly workers, says Ms. Peck, this just isn’t an option. Many work in industries that have contact with the community — such as food servers, people who care for children, clean offices and homes.

As stated above, it is not just sick leave, The US also lacks any kind of comprehensive paid family leave policy, according to Ms. Peck, which would enable workers to take time off to care for a close family member’s health issues. This issue first came to light in 1993 when Bill Clinton signed into law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which required covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.

An example of just how needed is paid family leave, comes from the experience of Ericka Farrell, a mother of three in Maryland, who lost her temp job in the early 2000s because she had to take so much time off to care for her young son. She did not regret staying home, but now works with MomsRising to advocate for paid leave herself, writes Ms. Peck.

Millions are uninsured. Many more have terrible insurance.

According to Ms. Peck, even if you take time off when you are sick, you might not be able to afford to see the doctor. Slightly more than 10% of Americans. she mentions, or about 30 million people, don’t have health insurance. This is because their employers do not offer it, or it is too expensive.

Things to consider regarding the uninsured:

  • Far less likely to go to the doctor
  • Americans with insurance face obstacles to getting care due to high co-payments
  • Then there are the deductibles, which have been going up for decades
  • Most people haven’t come near clearing those deductibles at the beginning of the year

John Graves, associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was quoted as saying, “If we as a society are going to face a spreading infectious disease, the worse time of the year is the beginning of the year.”

Graves added that the US health care system is simply not designed to deal with a potential pandemic.

First, he says, the US relies on employment-based insurance. If people are thrown out of work due to an economic downturn, they lose coverage.

Second, insurance is designed to encourage people not to see the doctor through so-called “cost-sharing.”  Co-payments and deductibles exist to discourage people from visiting the doctor or going to the hospital for every “cough and sniffle.” Graves said.

Lastly, in 2018, the Administration made it easier for people to buy insurance plans with less generous coverage, and don’t always cover expenses stemming from preexisting conditions, the article says. Experts have said that these plans they consider junk policies, have even higher out-of-pocket costs.

So what does this all mean?

It means that cuts to the social safety net guarantees that should the coronavirus get out of hand, the US is not prepared to deal with it effectively, and many more people will probably die who shouldn’t because of politics and ideology.

Hospital closings in rural areas, the firing of hundreds of health care personnel at the federal level, silencing the experts in infectious diseases, and the appointment of a man who rejects evolution and says smoking does not cause cancer to coordinate the Administration’s response, is a recipe for a catastrophe of unimanigable proportions. Calling it a hoax in front of your ardent supporters who believe everything you say, will only lead to more confusion and more deaths.

But this crisis also proves that it is high time those on social media sites like LinkedIn who are part of the health care industry, whether they are physicians, in the pharmaceutical industry, work in hospitals, are device manufacturers, or are consultants and researchers, accept the fact that single payer, universal health care (Medicare for All) is not just an economic necessity, but a public health necessity as well.

Is your big, fat five or six figure incomes more important than human health? It’s your call.

A Well-Constructed, If Unintentional Argument for Single Payer

While not intending to do so, my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda has made a well-constructed argument for single payer health care, all the while examining the impact of health insurance status has on workers’ comp.

Rather than give you my take on what Joe wrote, I am providing the reader with his entire post below:

Health insurance status and workers’ comp

The headlines were comforting – not much change in the number of Americans without health insurance.

Before you breathe that sigh of relief, you’d be well-advised to dig a bit deeper, because there’s plenty of bad news just under the headline.

While the national number of uninsured stayed about the same, that’s irrelevant to you – because healthcare is local. Here’s what I’d be worried about.

Young adults are almost twice as likely as older adults to be uninsured – about one in six younger adults don’t have coverage.

  • Takeaway – no health insurance = more incentive to file work comp claims
  • Over a quarter of working-age Texans don’t have coverage. Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are not far behind

Takeaway – no health insurance = poorer health status, more comorbidities, more charity care for providers thus more incentive to cost- and claim-shift.

  • 44% of working-age adults were covered by high-deductible plans – but more than half of them don’t have health savings accounts needed to fund those high deductibles

Takeaway – “High” deductible health plans aren’t much different than no insurance at all if the patient can’t afford the deductible – and over half can’t. So, more incentive to cost- and claim-shift.

What does this mean for you?

Workers’ comp will be affected by the Administration’s ongoing behind-the-scene effort to hollow out the ACA and cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid.

But what it also means it that single payer will be the only way every American can be assured of access to health care that is affordable and available when they need it, and is not a luxury they can do without,

It may also mean that the workers’ comp silo may have to be folded once and for all into the health care silo that will cover the elderly, the poor, children, the military and their families, and everyone else not currently covered under any insurance, or under employer-sponsored insurance, which would be done away with.

So, Joe gave us an unintended gift by showing how health insurance status and workers’ comp may lead to the implementation of single payer health care.

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.

Medical Travel Impact of ACA Repeal: The View from the Medical Travel Industry

Note: Laura Carabello’s Medical Travel Today has been the best partner a writer such as myself could have in getting my idea for medical travel out to the world, and it is only fitting that I return the favor. Here is an article written by Laura on a subject I have covered many times before.

Without the Affordable Care Act Will Medical Tourism Increase?
by Laura Carabello

mdmag.com- The impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has created uncertainty in the US healthcare marketplace. As the existing system is dismantled, and programs shut down or replaced, many Americans will be scrambling to access truly affordable, quality care.

This phenomenon has many implications for US physicians as people in every market sector begins to explore their options – from uninsured individuals to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as employees covered by self-funded companies.

If the ranks of the uninsured grow as a result of the demise of the ACA, medical travel options could represent an ideal solution. According to the research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in January 24, 2017, even after implementation of the ACA, 15% of people with chronic diseases still lacked health insurance coverage and more than a quarter of them didn’t get a checkup in 2014. About 23% of people with chronic disease went without care because they found that costs were still too high.

This signals a potential boon for the international medical travel industry, further propelling the steady growth it has experienced in recent years. Medical travel was valued at $439 billion, and is projected to grow 25% a year over the next decade. In 2016, an estimated 1.4 million Americans traveled abroad for a medical procedure.

US physicians may also find that even Medicaid beneficiaries and Medicare enrollees will be lured to hospitals and providers outside the US.

For Medicaid patients who remained optimistic that their home state would offer expanded coverage, their hopes are fading. Repeal of the ACA will leave millions of the poorest and sickest Americans without insurance. Many states may either abandon Medicaid expansion or be forced to significantly redesign their programs to ensure that individuals below 400% of the federal poverty level can receive affordable healthcare coverage and services.

While these low-income families may not have cash reserves to fund expensive care in the US, they might have the resources – or may be able to gather support from family and friends – to access affordable surgeries overseas.

As for Medicare enrollees, including 57 million senior citizens and disabled Americans, higher premiums, deductibles and cost-sharing could spark a shift toward medical travel, especially given the country’s aging population and the likelihood that many seniors will require surgery.

Seniors could face higher deductibles and co-payments for their Part A, which covers hospital stays, and higher premiums and deductibles for Part B, which pays for doctor visits and other services. Under a full repeal, Medicare enrollees may also lose some of their free preventative benefits, such as screenings for breast and colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Self-insured employers are actively seeking to lower health-care costs and increase their financial margins, and they may opt to steer workers to more cost-effective Centers of Excellence outside their home state or region.  As a result, and despite long-term relationships with their hometown physicians, patients will be incentivized to leave the country and access care at foreign hospitals that demonstrate quality care at lower cost.  By waiving deductibles or copays – and even paying cash rewards for choosing the medical travel option – employers will prompt patients to make the decision to travel.

Further raising patients’ comfort levels regarding medical travel is the increased quality of care now offered at international hospitals. This improvement is due to the success of knowledge transfer programs and training offered by US institutions and providers to hospitals worldwide. These collaborative efforts are bringing American ingenuity, sophisticated technology, administrative simplification and advanced techniques to hospitals in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean, as well as to locations as far away as Malta and the United Arab Emirates.

If the ACA is fully repealed, distinct changes in medical travel patterns are expected.

While Americans traditionally traveled out of the country to access elective procedures — dental care, esthetic surgeries or wellness care not typically included in their health benefits packages – they are now more likely to seek reliable medical treatment for complex conditions in destinations that are cross-border but only requiring three to four hours of travel time.

Hospitals and providers in the Latin America-Caribbean Region are likely to become destinations of choice for employers, as well as individuals. The lure of less expensive and shorter travel, reduced language barriers, and more cultural familiarity are appealing to all.  The challenge will be to access benchmarks for selecting providers, ascertaining costs, determining legal recourse regarding less-than-optimal outcomes and other issues. Without the guidance of a health plan or administrator, this process may be challenging to many.

With the steady rise of medical travel, a growing number of US physicians will encounter patients seeking consultation prior to getting treatment abroad. This means providing medical records or consulting directly with the international team.

Physicians will also encounter more patients who require follow-up care after undergoing a procedure in another country. In this case, it will be important to access treatment information and discharge papers from the overseas hospital, as well as records for blood work, X-rays or other screenings for use as a roadmap for the patient’s post-care. Physicians may also be reticent to perform additional services that may be required following care performed outside the US and not in their control.

Beyond the medical details, physicians need to understand every aspect of medical travel to deal with the increased competition and cost pressures. They may want to look into making improvements and upgrading services to justify the expense of treatments here in the United States. The strongest transformation will occur in what is today the most lucrative part of the industry: high-cost surgeries and procedures. Keep in mind that US treatment costs often justify travel elsewhere, despite additional travel and accommodation costs.

Going forward, physicians can play a role in guiding patients to seek the best possible care – wherever it is available — while helping them understand the benefits and potential risks of medical travel.

To view the original article, click here.

Low-Income Uninsured Declines Due to ACA Expansion: Kentucky

Richard’s Note: This is my 250th post, although not all of them were written by me, and some of them are just infograms; nevertheless, this is an important milestone. It shows that with dogged determination, in the face of heavy odds and criticism, one can persevere and be insightful at the same time. My only wish is that more people would read this blog, and that it would be taken more seriously. One does not need a title to be taken seriously. Just ask Donald Trump.

As reported today in Health Affairs, Kentucky, which was one of two Southern states to expand Medicaid in 2013, saw a sharp decline in the percentage of uninsured from 35 percent at the end of 2013 to 11 percent in late 2014.

This decline was part of a study that was completed before the new Kentucky governor, Matt Bevins, a Tea Party lackey, announced that he would discontinue the expansion.

The study used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Residents of Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, three neighboring states not expanding Medicaid eligibility, served as study controls.

Some of the other study findings revealed declines in the number of people with unmet medical needs and lacking a regular source of health care.

But now that the new governor has discontinued the expansion, it is quite probable that rates of uninsurance will once again climb, as those who gained insurance under the ACA, will more than likely have it taken away from them.

What this means for the health care system in Kentucky, and in the other states that expanded Medicaid, should their states elect more Matt Bevins, is that people who one did not have insurance, will find themselves back in the same position before the ACA.

As I wrote back in May of last year, in my article, “Failure to Expand Medicaid Could Lead to Cost-Shift to Work Comp“, states such as Florida (my state), Texas (naturally), Virginia (legislature said no, governor wants it), Wisconsin (Scott (I hate unions) Walker, and others, are likely to see such cost-shifting.

Adding Kentucky to that mix will only make matters worse. Why the health care industry in general, and the workers’ comp industry in particular, does not explore ALL possible options to providing health care to low-income and injured workers, is beyond me.

But to leave out one particular option because some judge won’t order it (do doctors order executions?), or because some people think that medical care outside the three mile limit of the US is sub-standard, or because they like the status quo and are fooling themselves into believing that some new program or scheme will fix the problem?

And to tell your industry that those “ideas” are new trends without even trying that one particular option, cannot be called “outfront ideas”. It is just more of the same.

Readers of this blog know what that option is…it is part of the reason this blog exists, and why it will continue to exist. We must open our health care options to every conceivable possibility, no matter how far fetched or “out there” it is. It is a law of economics if you can find a product or service at lower cost, and at equal or better quality somewhere else, you will buy it. That seems to work for everything else, but health care.