Tag Archives: Congress

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

 

 

 

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.

Justice Dept. Says Crucial Provisions of Obamacare Are Unconstitutional – The New York Times

The following article should alarm every decent American, especially those who wants to see every American have health care that does not eat into their life savings or cause them to go into debt.

Your humble author is one of them and may also be affected if this draconian decision is upheld by the courts and the Supreme Court. Thanks Bernie Bots and Steiners…thanks for giving us Justice Gorsuch by not voting or not voting for the Democratic candidate two years ago.

For what this will mean to Americans, here is Dr. Don McCanne’s take on it:

“Amongst the more important provisions of the Affordable Care Act were the requirements for guaranteed issue and community rating. For individuals with preexisting conditions, insurers could not deny them coverage nor could they charge them higher premiums than are charged for others in the same age group. This corrected two of the most serious defects in the individual insurance market that existed before enactment of ACA and made insurance available to many who otherwise could not purchase the plans.

Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that he will no longer defend these provisions. If the courts uphold his position, individuals with significant health care needs may find insurance with adequate benefits to be either unaffordable or not even available to them. Then concepts such as “universal” or “affordable” become moot.

How does this compare to our traditional Medicare program? The courts have already ruled that Part A of Medicare – the hospital benefit -is mandatory and must be accepted if the individual also accepts Social Security benefits. However, this does not apply to Part B – the physician benefits – nor to Part D – the drug benefits. Thus the courts have ruled that the government can require certain mandates in health care, but it also demonstrates that our current Medicare program needs to be improved, for this and for a great many other reasons. So a single payer, improved Medicare for all should be able to pass constitutional muster.

Once we have an improved Medicare that covers everyone, instead of thinking of it as some sort of unwanted government mandate, most of us would think of it as an automatic program ensuring health care financing for all of us – one that we have earned though our individual contributions based on ability to pay – guaranteed, affordable health care forever.”

Vermont becomes first state to permit drug imports from Canada – POLITICO

In a rebuff to the current neo-liberal regime and its recent plan to tackle drug prices, the State of Vermont became the first in the nation to allow cross-border purchasing of drugs from Canada. Makes sense because the border is not that far away.

Years ago, my late mother worked for a company here in Florida that facilitated drugs to come to patients from Canada, the UK and Israel.

But thanks to successful lobbying by a former Democratic Congressman from Louisiana who after leaving Congress became a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, the government forbade the importation of Canadian drugs.

The measure is one of the most aggressive attempts by a state to tackle rising drug prices that critics say are crippling state finances.

Source: Vermont becomes first state to permit drug imports from Canada – POLITICO

On the Job Injury Costs Rising

Turning back to the original subject of this blog, workers’ comp issues, two articles this week discusses two recent reports that examine the issue of workplace safety.

The first article highlights the fact that despite a drop in the number of workplace injuries, the cost of those injuries and illnesses continues to rise, according to the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

According to the Safety Index, the number of most serious injuries and illnesses fell by 1.5%, yet their cost, including medical and lost-wage payments, rose by 2.9% between the 2017 and 2018 reports.

Total cost of the most disabling work-related injuries was $58.5 billion, with the 10 leading causes accounting for $51.4 billion of the total, the Index reported.

An earlier post in this blog has discussed this issue before.

The top cause of workplace injuries, according to the Index, was overexertion, costing employers $13.7 billion in 2015. Falls on the same level came after that at a cost of $11.2 billion, while falls at a lower level cost another $5.9 billion.

Finally, rounding out the top five causes, were struck by object or equipment at $5.3 billion, and other exertions or bodily reactions at nearly $4.2 billon, the Index reported.

The second article discusses a report issued by the AFL-CIO on making workplaces safer. The report outlines the state of safety and health protections for American workers, and includes state and national information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act). It also has information on mine safety and health.

A side note here: On Tuesday, the voters in West Virginia defeated Don Blankenship, the former Chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Company, who was convicted and spent a year in prison for his role in a mine safety disaster, who ran for the Republican nomination for US Senator. Blankenship not only ran a lackluster campaign, but engaged in calling Senate Majority Leader McConnell a few choice names, and attacked his wife and father-in-law because they are Chinese. He chose to use racist language to attack McConnell’s family,

But back to the issue at hand.

In 2016, there were 5,190 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries, which was an increase over the 4,836 deaths reported in 2015. The rate of fatalities in 2016 also increased from 3.4 per 100,000 in 2015 to 3.6 per 100,000 in 2016.

Since Congress enacted the OSH Act, more than 579,000 workers can claim that their lives have been saved. But the article states that too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as a result of chemical plant explosions, major fires, construction collapses, and other preventable tragedies. Add to that, workplace violence is increasing.

Key points to consider:

  • An average of 14 workers die because of job injuries; does not include death from occupational diseases, estimated to be 50,000 – 60,000 each year
  • In 2016, nearly 3.7 million workers across all industries, plus state and local governments, had work-related injuries and illnesses; 2.9 million reported by employers in private industry
  • Due to limitations on current reporting system, true toll is estimated to be two or three times greater, or 7.4 – 11.1 million injuries and illnesses a year
  • Cost of these injuries and illnesses estimated at $250 billion to $360 billion

Key takeaways:

  • During eight years of Obama administration, a strong track record on worker safety and health was achieved. Dedicated pro-worker advocates appointed to lead job safety agencies, increase budget for job safety, stepped up enforcement and strengthened workers’ rights, landmark legislation protecting workers from silica and coal dust issued, long-overdue rules on other serious safety and health hazards, including beryllium and confined space entry in construction industry introduced
  • Opposition by business groups and Republican-led Congress thwarted action on a number of initiatives, but at end of eight years, Obama administration put in place protections, policies, and programs that made jobs safer, reduced injuries and illnesses, and saved workers’ lives

Compare that to what the current anti-worker, pro-business fascist regime in Washington is doing to not only roll back the work of the Obama administration, but to undo all the safeguards and protections workers had fought and died for over the past century.

There is even consideration of looking at the child labor laws. Instead of draining the swamp, the head of this regime has nominated a coal industry executive to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Folks, this gang of corporate criminals wants to make America great again by not moving forward, but by moving backward. They want to take the country back, alright — right back to the 19th century when businesses did whatever they wanted, workers had no rights, and if you got injured or ill on the job, it was too bad. Or maybe it was your fault. That was the verdict in the civil case against the two owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, whose factory went up in flames in March 1911, and led to enactment of workers’ compensation laws and fire codes.

And the sad thing is, there are many business professionals who support and defend this regime and its leader, especially on social media sites like LinkedIn. They are not CEOs or Presidents of companies, although some maybe, albeit small ones. They do have executive titles at the managerial, supervisory or vice presidential levels. They are not informed about the struggles workers endured during the last century to gain those rights and protections. And until the labor movement, and the union leadership regains their rightful place as defenders of those rights, these actions will continue until they are gone forever.

 

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?