Tag Archives: Congress

KFF Health Tracking Poll – September 2019: Health Care Policy In Congress And On The Campaign Trail | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

This month’s poll probes Democrats’ views about the general approaches to expanding health coverage and lowering costs put forward by the candidates; the public’s health care prio…

Source: KFF Health Tracking Poll – September 2019: Health Care Policy In Congress And On The Campaign Trail | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

 

Comment by Don McCanne
According to this new poll, Democrats support Medicare-for-all (“a national health plan”), Independents are split, and Republicans are opposed. Also, Democrats and Independents both support a public option (“a government-administered health plan”), and Republicans are split. However, the public is confused as to whether Medicare-for-all and a public option are similar or different, and half have not heard much about Medicare-for-all and even more have not heard much about a public option.
It seems as if individuals do have an opinion on Medicare-for-all and on a public option even though many are confused as to what they are. The fact that the pollsters referred to one as “a national health plan” and the other as “a government-administered health plan” likely leaves many of those polled with little understanding of the refinements distinguishing the two models.
Features that people might be interested in include the following:
Everyone is automatically covered for life
Affordability is assured through equitable taxes based on ability to pay
Financial barriers such as high deductibles are eliminated
Choices of physicians and hospitals are assured through elimination of insurer networks
Hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative waste is recovered
Of course, these are features of the single payer model of Medicare for all and none would apply by merely adding a public option to our fragmented financing system of a multitude of public and private insurance programs.
When will the pollsters finally ask the following questions?
Should everyone be covered or just some of us?
Should insurance be automatic forever or should it depend on life circumstances?
Should payments into the system be made affordable based on income, or should many be left out because they can’t afford the premiums?
Should high deductibles and surprise medical bills be used to deprive individuals of health care that they should have?
Should patients have choices of their physicians and hospitals or shall we continue to allow private insurers to restrict choices to their networks?
Should we continue to tolerate wasting about half a trillion dollars in administrative excesses, or should we redirect those funds that so that we can pay for care for those currently uninsured or underinsured?
In other words, do we want a health care system that we can afford that takes care of all of us, or do we want to merely add a public option and a couple of tweaks to ACA that leaves our overpriced, highly dysfunctional system in place? People really need to understand the differences between Medicare-for-all (single payer version) and a public option. Let’s see that they do.

Medicare for All and Its Rivals | Annals of Internal Medicine | American College of Physicians

Richard’s Note: A shout-out to Don McCanne for posting this today from the Annals of Internal Medicine, which is providing the full article for free. The authors, Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, both MDs, should be familiar to readers as two of the authors I covered in my review of the Waitzkin, et al. book, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health. In the spirit of the AIM, I am posting the entire article below with link to the original. It is that important.

Medicare for All and Its Rivals: New Offshoots of Old Health Policy Roots

The leading option for health reform in the United States would leave 36.2 million persons
uninsured in 2027 while costs would balloon to nearly $6 trillion (1). That option is called the
status quo. Other reasons why temporizing is a poor choice include the country’s decreasing life
expectancy, the widening mortality gap between the rich and the poor, and rising deductibles
and drug prices. Even insured persons fear medical bills, commercial pressures permeate
examination rooms, and physicians are burning out.
In response to these health policy failures, many Democrats now advocate single-payer,
Medicare-for-All reform, which until recently was a political nonstarter. Others are wary of
frontally assaulting insurers and the pharmaceutical industry and advocate public-option plans
or defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Meanwhile, the Trump
administration seeks to turbocharge market forces through deregulation and funneling more
government funds through private insurers. Here, we highlight the probable effects of these
proposals on how many persons would be covered, the comprehensiveness of coverage, and
national health expenditures (Table).

Table. Characteristics of Major Health Reform Proposals as of March 2019

Medicare for All

Medicare-for-All proposals are descendents of the 1948 Wagner–Murray–Dingell national health
insurance bill and Edward Kennedy and Martha Griffiths’ 1971 single-payer plan (2). They would
replace the current welter of public and private plans with a single, tax-funded insurer covering
all U.S. residents. The benefit package would be comprehensive, providing first-dollar coverage
for all medically necessary care and medications. The single-payer plan would use its
purchasing power to negotiate for lower drug prices and pay hospitals lump-sum global
operating budgets (similar to how fire departments are funded). Physicians would be paid
according to a simplified fee schedule or receive salaries from hospitals or group practices.
Similar payment strategies in Canada and other nations have made universal coverage
affordable even as physicians’ incomes have risen. These countries have realized savings in
national health expenditures by dramatically reducing insurers’ overhead and providers’ billing-
related documentation and transaction costs, which currently consume nearly one third of U.S.
health care spending (3). The payment schemes in the House of Representatives’ Medicare-for-
All bill closely resemble those in Canada. The companion Senate bill incorporates some of
Medicare’s current value-based payment mechanisms, which would attenuate administrative
savings. Most analysts, including some who are critical of Medicare for All, project that such a
reform would garner hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative and drug savings (4) that
would counterbalance the costs of utilization increases from expanded and upgraded coverage.
Reductions in premiums and out-of-pocket costs would fully offset the expense of new taxes
implemented to fund the reform.

 

“Medicare-for-More” Public Options

Public-option proposals, which would allow some persons to buy in to a public insurance plan,
might be labeled “Medicare for More.” Republicans Senator Jacob Javits and Representative John
Lindsay first advanced similar proposals in the early 1960s as rivals to a proposed fully public
Medicare program for seniors. This approach resurfaced during the early 1970s as Javits’
universal coverage alternative to Kennedy’s single-payer plan and gained favor with some
Democrats during the 2009 ACA debate.
Policymakers are floating several public-option variants, most of which would offer a public plan
alongside private plans on the ACA’s insurance exchanges. Although a few of these variants
would allow persons to buy in to Medicaid, most envision a new plan that would pay Medicare
rates and use providers who participate in Medicare. Positive features of these reforms include
offering additional insurance choices and minimizing the need for new taxes because enrollees
would pay premiums to cover the new costs. However, these plans would cover only a fraction
of uninsured persons, few of whom could afford the premiums (5); do little to improve the
comprehensiveness of existing coverage; and modestly increase national health expenditures.
The Medicaid public-option variant, which many states might reject, would probably dilute
these effects.
Medicare for America, the strongest version of a public-option plan, would automatically enroll
anyone not covered by their employer (including current Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s
Health Insurance Program enrollees) in a new Medicare Part E plan. It would upgrade
Medicare’s benefits, although copayments and deductibles (capped at $3500) would remain.
The program would subsidize premiums for those whose income is up to 600% of the poverty
level, and employers could enroll employees in the program by paying 8% of their annual
payroll. The new plan would use Medicare’s payment strategies and include private Medicare
Advantage (MA) plans (which inflate Medicare’s costs [6]) and accountable care organizations.
Medicare for America would greatly expand coverage and upgrade its comprehensiveness but
at considerable cost. As with other public-options reforms, it would retain multiple payers and
therefore sacrifice much of the administrative savings available under single-payer plans.
Physicians and hospitals would have to maintain the expensive bureaucracies needed to
attribute costs and charges to individual patients, bill insurers, and collect copayments. Savings
on insurers’ overhead would also be less than those under single-payer plans. Overhead is only
2% in traditional Medicare (and 1.6% in Canada’s single-payer program [7]) but averages 13.7%
in MA plans (8) and would continue to do so under public-option proposals. Furthermore, as in
the MA program, private insurers would inflate taxpayers’ costs by upcoding as well as cherry-
picking and enacting network restrictions that shunt unprofitable patients to the public-option
plan. This strategy would turn the latter plan into a de facto high-risk pool.

The Trump Administration White Paper and Budget Proposal

Unlike these proposals, reforms under the Trump administration have moved to shrink the
government’s role in health care by relaxing ACA insurance regulations; green-lighting states’
Medicaid cuts; redirecting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funds to private care; and
strengthening the hand of private MA plans by easing network-adequacy standards, increasing
Medicare’s payments to these plans, and marketing to seniors on behalf of MA plans. A recent
administration white paper (9) presents the administration’s plan going forward: Spur the
growth of high-deductible coverage, eliminate coverage mandates, open the border to foreign
medical graduates, and override states’ “any-willing-provider” regulations and certificate-of-
need laws that constrain hospital expansion. The president’s recently released budget proposal
calls for cuts of $1.5 trillion in Medicaid funding and $818 billion in Medicare provider payments
over the next 10 years.
Thus far, the effects of the president’s actions—withdrawing coverage from some Medicaid
enrollees and downgrading the comprehensiveness of some private insurance—have been
modest. His plans would probably swell the ranks of uninsured persons and hollow out
coverage for many who retain coverage, shifting costs from the government and employers to
individual patients. The effect on overall national health expenditures is unclear: Cuts to
Medicaid, Medicare, and the comprehensiveness of insurance might decrease expenditures;
however, deregulating providers and insurers would probably increase them.
In 1971, a total of 5 years after the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, exploding costs and
persistent problems with access and quality triggered a roiling debate over single-payer plans.
As support for Kennedy’s plan grew, moderate Republicans offered a public-option alternative,
1 of several proposals promising broadened coverage on terms friendlier to private insurers.
Kennedy derided these proposals by stating, “It calms down the flame, but it really doesn’t meet
the need” (10). President Nixon’s pro market HMO strategy—a close analogue of the modern-
day accountable care strategy—ultimately won out, although his proposals for coverage
mandates, insurance exchanges, and premium subsidies for low-income persons did not reach
fruition until passage of the ACA.
Five years into the ACA era, there is consensus that the health care status quo spawned by
Nixon’s vision is unsustainable. President Trump would veer further down the market path.
Public-option supporters hope to expand coverage while avoiding insurers’ wrath. Medicare-
for-All proponents aspire to decouple care from commerce.

Lower Prescription Drug Prices Lure Americans To Mexico To Buy Meds : Shots – Health News : NPR

Good morning all.

Thanks go out to Josef Woodman who tweeted the following today from NPR about prescription drugs and going across the Mexican border to buy them at lower cost.

This is in addition to the article I recently posted, Run for the Border (Not a Taco Bell Commercial).

So wall, or no wall, Americans are going to look for cheaper prescription drugs, either in Mexico or Canada, or elsewhere, until we allow the government to negotiate prices for medications under an improved and expanded Medicare for All.

But thanks to a former Louisiana congressman who left Congress to become the President and CEO of PhRMA, a pharmaceutical company lobbying group, Congress passed a bill that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices and bans the importation of identical, cheaper, drugs from Canada and elsewhere.

But it does not have to be this way. We can lower drug prices, but by allowing the government to negotiate them, and not giving the pharmaceutical industry huge giveaways.

Here is NPR’s article:

Faced with high U.S. prices for prescription drugs, some Americans cross the border to buy insulin pens and other meds. At least 1 insurer reimburses flights to the border to make such purchases easy.

Source: Lower Prescription Drug Prices Lure Americans To Mexico To Buy Meds : Shots – Health News : NPR

Establishment looks to crush liberals on Medicare for All – POLITICO

FYI to all Progressives and Medicare for All supporters:

The coalition that fought Obamacare repeal has fragmented as the party tries to follow through on campaign promises.

Source: Establishment looks to crush liberals on Medicare for All – POLITICO

Midterm Mashup

Well, the 2018 Midterm elections are over, and the analysis is beginning as to what this all means.

For those who wanted to send a message to the Russian puppet in Washington, the election meant that the House of Representatives will be controlled for the next two years starting in January by the Democrats.

For the Republicans, it means a greater control of the Senate, with at least one race, the one in my current state of Florida undecided and headed for a recount, as per state law.

However, there were many defeats for the party of Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, LBJ. JFK, Truman and FDR. Andrew Gillum lost to a nobody for governor of Florida who is connected to the Orangutan by an umbilical cord. Beto O’Rourke made a valiant, if futile effort against the worse person to hold a Senate seat, Lyin’ Ted Cruz. And a few Democratic senators lost seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

But as far as health care is concerned, the change in the leadership of the House of Representatives means that the ACA is safe for another two years. and Medicare and Medicaid will not be cut, as the Senate Majority Leader has indicated he wanted to do.

Medicaid, in particular, came out of the Midterms a little better than expected before the election, as the following posts from Healthcare Dive, Joe Paduda, and Health Affairs reported this morning.

First up, Healthcare Dive, who reported that Red states say ‘yes’ to Medicaid . Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska said yes to expansion; Montana said no.

Joe Paduda echoed that in his post, “And the big winner of the 2018 Midterms is…Medicaid“. However, Joe stated that results in Montana were not final; yet, they had decided to expand Medicaid two years ago, but the vote was temporary, and yesterday’s vote was to make it permanent.

And lastly, Health Affairs reported in “What the 2018 Midterm Elections Means for Health Care” that besides blocking repeal of the ACA, Democrats may tackle drug prices, preexisting conditions protections, Opioids, Medicare for All, Surprise bills (unexpected charges from a hospital visit). regulatory oversight, extenders such as MACRA, Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, and Medicaid expansion, especially since gubernatorial wins in Maine, Kansas, and Wisconsin will make expansion more likely in those states.

Again, With the Models?

Today’s post from Don McCanne revives an old issue readers of this blog are familiar with — the introduction of new models or the revising of old models for value-based care such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and the Medicare Shared Savings Program.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma attempts to defend these models and gives an overview of a new proposal called “Pathways to Success.” Don’t you just love these cute names they give to future failures? Instead of scraping them altogether and going to single payer, they keep re-inventing a broken wheel.

At any rate, I am posting Verma’s article from Health Affairs blog, along with Kip Sullivan’s response, and lastly, Don McCanne’s brief comments on both. Enjoy!


Health Affairs Blog
August 9, 2018
Pathways To Success: A New Start For Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations
By Seema Verma
For many years we have heard health care policymakers from both political parties opine about the need to move to a health care system that pays for the value of care delivered to patients, rather than the mere volume of services.
From the moment I became Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), I have been committed to using every tool at my disposal to move our health care system towards value-based care.
One set of value-based payment models that CMS has been closely reviewing are initiatives involving Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
In this post I will unpack key features of Medicare’s ACO initiatives and provide an overview of CMS’s new proposal for the Medicare Shared Savings Program, called “Pathways to Success.”
Upside-Only Versus Two-Sided ACOs
The majority of Medicare’s ACOs – 460 of the 561 or 82% of Shared Savings Program ACOs in 2018 – are in the upside-only “Track 1” of the Shared Savings Program, meaning that they share in savings but do not share in losses.  Currently, ACOs are allowed to remain in the one-sided track for up to six years.
The results show that ACOs that take on greater levels of risk show better results for cost and quality over time. (See Kip’s comments.)
The current combination of six years of upside-only risk, which involves bonus payments if spending is low but no risk of losses if spending goes up, along with the provision of waivers may be encouraging consolidation.  Such consolidation reduces choices for patients without controlling costs.  This is unacceptable.
The proposed changes included in Pathways to Success would shorten the maximum amount of time permitted in upside-only risk to allow a maximum of two years, or one year for ACOs identified as having previously participated in the Shared Savings Program under upside-only risk.
Streamlining the program, extending the length of agreements, and accelerating the transition to two-sided risk would result in reduced administrative burden and greater savings for patients and taxpayers.
Looking Forward
ACOs can be an important component of the move to a value-based system, but after six years of experience, the program must evolve to deliver value.  The time has come to put real “accountability” in Accountable Care Organizations.
—————————————————————————————————————————————–
The Health Care Blog
August 21, 2018
Seema Verma Hyperventilates About Tiny Differences Between ACOs Exposed to One-and Two-Sided Risk
By Kip Sullivan, JD
There is no meaningful difference between the performance of Medicare ACOs that accept only upside risk (the chance to make money) and ACOs that accept both up- and downside risk (the risk of losing money). But CMS’s administrator, Seema Verma, thinks otherwise. According to her, one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs while two-sided ACOs are saving “significant” amounts of money. She is so sure of this that she is altering the rules of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). Currently only 18 percent of MSSP ACOs accept two-sided risk. That will change next year. According to a proposed rule CMS published on August 9, ACOs will have at most two years to participate in the MSSP exposed to upside risk only, and after that they must accept two-sided risk.
That same day, Verma published an essay on the Health Affairs blog in which she revealed, presumably unwittingly, how little evidence she has to support her decision. The data Verma published in that essay revealed that one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs by six-one-hundredths of a percent while two-sided ACOs are cutting Medicare’s costs by seven-tenths of a percent. Because these figures do not consider the expenses ACOs incur, and because the algorithms CMS uses to assign patients to ACOs and to calculate ACO expenditure targets and actual performance are so complex, this microscopic difference is meaningless.
As pathetic as these figures are, they fail to take into account ACO start-up and operating costs. CMS doesn’t know or care what those costs are. The only relevant information we have are some undocumented statements by the staff of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) to the effect that ACO overhead is about 2 percent of their benchmarks (their predicted spending). I suspect 2 percent is low, but let’s take it at face value and do the math. If, as Verna’s data indicates, two-sided ACOs save Medicare seven-tenths of a percent net (that is, considering both CMS’s shared-savings payments to some ACOs and penalties other ACOs that lose money pay to CMS), but these ACOs spend 2 percent doing whatever it is ACOs do, that means the average two-sided ACO is losing one percent.
The good news is that Verma may have hastened the demise of a program that isn’t working. Whether Congress ultimately pulls the plug on the ACO project will depend on whether ACO advocates will concede at some point that the ACO fad was based on faith, not evidence, and has failed to work. I predict they will refuse to admit failure and will instead peddle another equally ineffective solution, for example, overpaying ACOs (as the Medicare Advantage insurers and their predecessors have been for the last half-century). I base my prediction on the behavior of ACO advocates. The history of the ACO movement indicates ACO proponents don’t make decisions based on evidence.
Facing the Evidence
Evidence that the ACO project is failing is piling up. All three of CMS’s two-sided ACO programs – the PGP demo, the Pioneer demo, and the Next Generation program – saved only a few tenths of a percent, while CMS’s mostly two-sided program, the MSSP, raised costs by a smidgeon. All four programs have raised costs if we take into account the ACOs’ start-up and operating costs and CMS’s cost of administering these complex programs. Evidence indicting the other major “value-based payment” fads – medical homes, bundled payments, and pay-for-performance schemes – is also piling up. The simultaneous failure of all these fads to cut costs spells trouble ahead for the Affordable Care Act (because it relies on “value-based payment reforms” for cost containment), MACRA (because it also relies on “value-based payment” theology), and our entire health care system (because the big insurance companies and the major hospital-clinic chains are spending more money on “value-based payment” fads than those fads are saving, and because these 1,000-pound gorillas are using the establishment’s endorsement of ACOs, medical homes etc. as an excuse to become 2,000-pound gorillas).
The root cause of our nation’s chronic inability to adopt effective cost-containment policies is the chronic inability of the American health policy establishment to make decisions based on evidence, not groupthink. Seema Verma’s decision to bet the farm on two-sided-risk ACOs is the latest example of this problem.
——————————————————————————————————————————————
Comment by Don McCanne
We can thank Seema Verma for showing us that all of the talk about value-based payment – paying for value instead of volume through the establishment of accountable care organizations – was never really about value. Her insistence in shoving providers into downside risk reveals that it was always about reducing federal spending on Medicare. But that hasn’t changed her deceptive rhetoric about value and accountability.
Thank goodness we have astute analysts such as Kip Sullivan. The excerpts from his critique of Verma’s views as expressed in her Health Affairs Blog article should tempt you to read his entire critique at The Health Care Blog (link above).
The nonsense about ACOs has to go so we can get down to fixing the real problems with our health care financing system – the inequities, lack of universality, and lack of affordability for far too many individual patients. So let’s turn up the volume on a well designed, single payer, improved Medicare for all.

Healthcare Lobbying Group Double-Crossing Democratic Voters

For nearly a year now, I have been advocating single payer health care ever since I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. BTW, I am doing fine, even if I have been rejected twice for access to transplant centers due to personal reasons I won’t go into here.

Today, I found an article on The Intercept.com that reported that several candidates for Congress and other offices in Hawaii and other states have secretly secured opposition to “Medicare for All” single payer healthcare, even though they have told their voters that they support it.

According to the article, the candidates in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, former state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, and Honolulu City Council Member Ernest Martin are taking heat from opponents for talking to an industry-friendly group, the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC).

The Healthcare Leadership Council seeks to advance the goals of the largest players in the private health care industry. These candidates are talking to the HLC even as public opinion is moving towards positions opposed by giant health care companies.

Kaniela Ing, a state lawmaker running for the seat on a democratic socialist platform stated that, “Democrats running in a primary election will say they support ‘Medicare for All,” but what do they say to lobbyists behind the scenes?”

In fact, the article reports, one leading candidate has campaigned on a pledge to crack down on over-priced pharmaceuticals and promote single payer, but told the consultant sent from the HLC that he would maintain drug industry friendly pricing policies and views Medicare for All with skepticism.

HLC spends over $5 million a year on industry advocacy and brings together chief executives of major health corporations, and represents an array of health industries — from insurers, hospitals, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers, pharmacies, health product distributers, and information technology companies.

HLC’s outreach in Hawaii began in January. The group told candidates, in an email obtained by The Intercept, that it was in the process of forming a coalition to “jointly develop policies, plans, and programs to achieve their vision of a 21st century system that makes affordable, high-quality care accessible to all Americans.”

This language obscures their national campaign to monitor and blunt the energy behind progressive policy reform. In an email to The Intercept, Michael Freeman, executive vice president of HLC said that they survey “congressional candidates every election cycle regarding their views on a wide range of healthcare issues.”

Former state Sen. Kim’s dossier profile said she is very pro-market, opposes any attempt at single payer, does not support price controls on pharmaceuticals and agrees that Medicare and Medicaid need to be managed by the private market.

It would seem that besides the opposition from the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, single payer, Medicare for All, is under assault below the radar of most voters, if not most Democratic voters during the primaries.

Despite alleged strong support for bills such as the one Bernie Sanders introduced, lobbyists for the medical-industrial complex are fighting hard to defeat health care reform for all Americans, and no matter what the public attitude is, they will prevent at all costs, the transition to single payer.

HLC also keeps tabs on candidates who could be a threat to their agenda, such as Ing, stating that she vocally supports a single payer, public health care system.

Lobbyists have told executives in the health care industry to be vigilant about the threat of single payer.

“It would be a mistake for us to overlook the growing number of lawmakers who are supportive of measures to expand significantly government’s role in healthcare,” according to a report HLC published at the end of last year. The report went on to say that while these ideas do not have the political support to pass at the moment, the “momentum on the Democratic side of the aisle is undeniable,” They have dispatched teams of lobbyists to keep tabs on rising candidates.

So, even if you vote for a Democrat in November, chances are, that they will double-cross you when it comes to supporting Medicare for All. Which is wrong-headed on their part, especially the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

If more people are covered, and the government pays for their health care, hospitals will get more patients covered under the plan and thus more revenue, even if they charge lower prices than for private insurance, and drug companies will sell more drugs to these patients, even if the prices are brought under control.

What difference does it make if a patient gets their health are from a government plan like Medicare or Medicaid, as many already do, or if they get it through private insurance? The hospitals and drug companies still make money, just a smaller amount. The number of newly insured will offset any assumed loss of profit, thereby increasing profit, and just not from a select group of people who can afford health care on their own.

Advocates for single payer need to be vigilant also. Don’t buy a pig in a poke. Confront these and other candidates for office to see if they really believe in single payer, or are pigs with lipstick.