Category Archives: Universal Health Care

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

 

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Comment By Don McCanne

Don McCanne outlines below some things the previous post, Universal healthcare could save America trillions: what’s holding us back? | Opinion | The Guardian left out.

Here are Don’s Comments:

Those who are up to date on the health policy literature may not find much new here, but there are a few points worth emphasizing:

* It is irrefutable that a well designed, single payer Medicare for All program would meet our health reform goals of affordability, universality, equity, effectiveness and efficiency.

* The barrier to reform is not financing since we are already spending enough to pay for such a system, especially once administrative efficiency is factored in.

* Using taxes to pay for the system should not be a problem since our current public spending on government-financed health programs, on tax expenditures for employer-sponsored plans, and on the purchase of health care for public employees would already pay for much of the system, and the remaining taxes needed would be offset by the elimination of insurance premiums, deductibles and other cost sharing.

* The fact that the taxes would be progressive would be a small step to help offset the egregious inequities in income that hold back too many of us who are contributing our fair share of effort to society while too often having to scrimp on essential needs. Tax policies should be used to adjust inequities that result in a select few being able to accumulate obscene levels of wealth – amounts far, far in excess of what their personal efforts contribute to society. They will not suffer from a very modest reduction in their excesses.

* The primary barrier to reform is political. Although Adam Gaffney says, “Good numbers do not a political movement make,” they sure do help. Advocacy is much easier when the facts are on the side of the people. So let’s all get out and nurture that political movement that we need.

The policy fight should be over. It is a political battle that we now face.

Universal healthcare could save America trillions: what’s holding us back? | Opinion | The Guardian

More fuel to the fire on single payer from The Guardian, as a follow-up to my two previous posts on the subject, Healthcare Lobbying Group Double-Crossing Democratic Voters and Establishment looks to crush liberals on Medicare for All – POLITICO.

A slew of studies are confirming that America can afford real universal healthcare, but some call it economically infeasible

Source: Universal healthcare could save America trillions: what’s holding us back? | Opinion | The Guardian

At the Bottom: A Work Comp Perspective on the Need for Single Payer

It is rare when someone from the work comp blogosphere crosses into health care and advocates that the US learn from other countries that have universal health care, in whatever form it takes in those countries.

Tom Lynch of Lynch Ryan’s Workers’ Comp Insider blog, did just that with a very detailed analysis of the US health care system compared to that of other Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) countries.

Here is Tom’s article:

What does a nation owe its citizens with respect to health care?

For nearly all members of the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD), the answer is guaranteed, high-quality, universal care at reasonable, affordable cost. For OECD founding member America, the answer seems to have become an opportunity to access care, which may or may not be of high-quality at indeterminate, wildly fluctuating and geographically varying cost.

It is indisputable that the US devotes more of its GDP to health care than other countries. How much more? For that answer we can turn to many sources, roughly all saying the same thing. The OECD produces annual date, as does the World Health Organization, among others. Another reliable and respected source is The Commonwealth Fund, which conducted a study of eleven high income OECD members including the US. The collection of health care cost data lags, so data from this study is mostly from 2014. Here is the cost picture:

As you can see, in 1980, US spending was not much different from the other ten OECD countries in the study. While high, it was at least in the same universe. But now, at 50% more than Switzerland, our closest competitor in the “how much can we spend” sweepstakes”, we might be forgiven for asking, “What in the name of Hippocrates happened?” As if this weren’t enough, the 2014 GDP percentage of spend, 16.6%, has now risen to nearly 18%, according to the CMS.

So, what do we get for all that money? We ought to have the highest life expectancy, the lowest infant mortality rate and the best health care outcomes in the entire OECD. But we don’t.

For many readers, it is probably galling to see both the UK and Australia at the top of the health care system performance measure and at the bottom of the spending measure. In the early 2000s, each of these countries poured a significant amount of money into improving its performance, and the results speak for themselves.

Consider all of this mere background to the purpose of this blog post.

Last week, we wrote about the terrible, 40-year stagnation of real wage growth in the US, pointing out that in that period real wages in 1982-1984 constant dollars have risen only 4.5%. But, as we have seen, health care spending did not follow that trajectory. This has resulted in tremendous hardship for families as they have tried to keep pace with rising health care costs. For, just as US health care spending has risen dramatically since 1980, so has what families have to pay for it.

To put this in perspective, consider this. Since 1999 the US CPI has risen 54%, but, as the chart above shows, the cost of an employer offered family plan has risen 338%. If a family’s health care plan’s cost growth had been inflation-based, the total cost to employer and employee would be $8,898 in 2018, not $19,616. In 2018, the average family in an employer-based plan pays 30% of the plan’s cost ($6,850), plus a $2,000 deductible, plus co-pays that average $20 whenever health care is accessed, plus varying levels of co-pays for drugs.

On top of all that is the enormous difficulty people have in trying to navigate the dizzying health care system (if you can call it that). American health care is a dense forest of bewildering complexity, a many-headed Hydra that would make Hesiod proud, a labyrinthine geography in which even Theseus with his ball of string would find himself lost.

With wages and health care costs growing ever farther apart, America has a crisis of epic proportion. Yet all we can seem to do is shout at each other about it. When do you think that will end? When will we begin to answer the question that this post began with: What does a nation owe its citizens with respect to health care? When will our nation’s leaders realize we can actually learn from countries like Australia, the UK, Switzerland and all the other high performing, low cost members of the OECD? Continuing on the present course is no longer a viable option.

 

Note: You may be questioning The Commonwealth Fund’s research. To put your mind at ease about that, here are the study sources:

Our data come from a variety of sources. One is comparative survey research. Since 1998, The Commonwealth Fund, in collaboration with international partners, has supported surveys of patients and primary care physicians in advanced countries, collecting information for a standardized set of metrics on health system performance. Other comparative data are drawn from the most recent reports of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Link: http://workerscompinsider.com/2018/11/at-the-bottom-looking-up/

GSK is paying docs again — and patients are the worse off

A shout out to Maria Todd for bringing this to my attention.

This would not be happening if we did what every other Western nation does, and give our citizens universal health care that does not line the pockets of multinational corporations, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, and Wall Street investors.

Health care should not be subject to the pursuit of profit.

One of the world’s largest drug makers, GSK promised it would no longer pay doctors to promote its medicines. Now it says doing so put it at a disadvantage.

Source: GSK is paying docs again — and patients are the worse off

Single Payer A Bargain

Another shout out to Don McCanne for the following.

On Friday, the Nation published an article by Steffie Woolhandler, David Himmelstein, and Adam Gaffney.

You may recall these folks from my book review, “Health Care Under the Knife,” and it’s conclusion, “Some Final Thoughts on ‘Health Care Under the Knife.'”

Rather than regurgitate it for you, I am letting you read it in its entirety. But before I do, let me bring to your attention, an issue that is flying under the radar and has serious consequences for the country, our rights, and for the future of health care and other social programs.

Those lovable brothers from the Midwest, Charles and David Koch, are funding a group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. One of the goals of ALEC is to call an Article V (of the Constitution, for those of you not familiar with the document) that allows for the creation of a convention in the event the government gets too much power.

I recommend you read up on it because it will radically alter our system of government for the benefit of the corporations and wealthy. Say goodbye to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and direct election of Senators, to name a few goals.

That brings me to a quote I must let you read from a man who has no clue what he is talking about, and is emblematic of the dysfunction of his party. That man is former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, himself a physician who said the following regarding a convention and why he and others feel it is necessary.

“We’re in a battle for the future of our country…We’re either going to become a socialist, Marxist country like western Europe, or we’re going to be free. As far as me and my family and my guns, I’m going to be free.”

In case you missed that, let me repeat it:

“We’re in a battle for the future of our country…We’re either going to become a socialist, Marxist country like western Europe, or we’re going to be free. As far as me and my family and my guns, I’m going to be free.” Violent, ain’t he?

Pray tell, what country in western Europe is Marxist? Last I heard, none. Folks, these guys not only want to take away health care, they are still fighting the Cold War and godless, Marxist Communism.  No, what they are really about is defending a system, both economic and health care-wise, that cannot be sustained.

Here is the article in full:

Last week, Charles Blahous at the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University published a study suggesting that Bernie Sanders’s single-payer health-care plan would break the bank. But almost immediately, various observers—including Sanders himself—noted that according to Blahous’s own estimates, single payer would actually save Americans more than $2 trillion over a decade. Blahous doubled down on his argument in The Wall Street Journal, and on Tuesday, The Washington Post’s fact-checker accused Democrats of seizing “on one cherry-picked fact” in Blahous’s report to make it seem like a bargain.
The Post is wrong to call this a “cherry-picked fact”—it’s a central finding of the analysis—but it is probably right that single-payer supporters shouldn’t make too much of Blahous’s findings. After all, his analysis is riddled with errors that actually inflate the cost of single payer for taxpayers.
First, Blahous grossly underestimates the main source of savings from single payer: administrative efficiency. Health economist Austin Frakt aptly demonstrated the “bewildering complexity of health care financing in the United States” in The New York Times last month, citing evidence that billing costs primary-care doctors $100,000 apiece and consumes 25 percent of emergency-room revenues; that billing and administration accounts for one-quarter of US hospital expenditures, twice the level in single-payer nations; and that nearly one-third of all US health spending is eaten up by bureaucracy.
Overall, as two of us documented recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a single-payer system could cut administration by $500 billion annually, and redirect that money to care. Blahous, in contrast, credits single payer with a measly fraction of that—or $70 billion—in administrative savings.
Our profit-driven multi-payer system is the source for this outlandish administrative sprawl. Doctors and hospitals have to negotiate contracts and fight over bills with hundreds of insurance plans with differing payment rates, rules, and requirements. Simplifying the payment system would free up far more money than Blahous estimates to expand and improve coverage.
Next, Blahous lowballs the potential for savings on prescription drugs. He assumes that a single-payer system couldn’t use its negotiating clout to push down drug prices, ignoring the fact that European nations and the US Veterans Affairs system achieve roughly 50 percent discounts relative to the US private sector. (Single payer’s only drug savings, he argues, will come from shifting 15 percent of brand-name prescriptions to generics.) Hence Blahous foresees only $61 billion in drug savings in 2022, even though tough price negotiations would likely achieve threefold higher savings.
Third, Blahous underestimates how much the government is already spending on health care. For instance, he omits the $724 billion that federal agencies are expected to pay for employees’ health benefits over the 10 years covered by his analysis, which would simply be redirected to Medicare for All. He also leaves out the massive savings to state and local governments, which would save nearly $3.6 trillion on employee benefits and another $5.3 trillion on Medicaid and other health programs. Hence, much of the “new money” needed to fund Sanders’s reform is already being collected as taxes.
Yes, there will need to be some new taxes—albeit much less than Blahous estimates. But those new taxes would just replace—not add to—current spending on premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. Additionally, at least some of the new taxes would be virtually invisible. For instance, the $10 trillion that employers would otherwise pay for premiums could instead be collected as payroll taxes. Similarly, Medicare for All would relieve households of the $7.7 trillion they’d pay for premiums and $6.3 trillion in out-of-pocket costs under the current system.
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds here. But at the end of the day, even according to Blahous’s errant projections, Medicare for All would save the average American about $6,000 over a decade. Single payer, in other words, shifts how we pay for health care, but it doesn’t actually increase overall costs—even while providing first-dollar comprehensive coverage to everyone in the nation. The Post’s fact-checker is wrong: Single-payer supporters can and should trumpet this important fact.
Of course, the most important benefits of single payer are altogether invisible in economic analyses like the one performed by Blahous. No matter what injury or illness we faced, we would be forever freed from one great worry: the cost of our care. It’s hard to put a price tag on that kind of freedom. Yet, paradoxically, even the slanted analysis of a libertarian economist provides evidence that it would be fiscally responsible.

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.