Tag Archives: Health Care Costs

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.

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Health Insurance Costs Accelerating for Workers | HealthLeaders Media

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Health Care Costs Rising for Workers. My post then cited a Kaiser study; this article references the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center.

On Monday, I reported that there is an effort underway to discredit the move towards single payer by various groups, and even Howard Schultz, the outgoing Chairman of Starbucks said the following back in June:

“It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don’t think that’s something realistic. I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises.”

So, if these two studies are accurate, and there is no way to prove they aren’t, then both Mr. Schultz and the various groups attempting to derail single payer, are only going to make things worse for workers, and for everyone else.

Oh, and by the way, there have been studies that indicated that we could afford single payer health care, especially a report sponsored by a Koch Brothers backed think tank, Mercatus.

So, consider the following from this Health Leaders article back in October of this year.

The average premium for employer-sponsored plans rose $267, or 4.4% between 2016 and 2017, which is twice the increase recorded between 2015 and 2016.

Source: Health Insurance Costs Accelerating for Workers | HealthLeaders Media

Employer Insurance Costs Growing Burden for Middle Class

The Commonwealth Fund today released a report that stated that the cost of employer-based insurance is a growing burden on middle-class families.

In 2017, more than half (56%) of people under age 65, about 152 million people, had insurance through an employer, either their own or a family member’s. In contrast, only 9 percent had a plan purchased on the individual market, including the marketplaces.

Here are the highlights from that brief:

Highlights

* After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, average premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in 2017. Annual single-person premiums climbed above $7,000 in eight states; family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states and D.C.

* Rising overall employer premiums increased the amount that workers and their families contribute. Average annual premium contributions for single-person plans ranged from $675 in Hawaii to $1,747 in Massachusetts; family plans ranged from $3,646 in Michigan to $6,533 in Delaware.

* Average employee premium contributions across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008. In 11 states, premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.

* The average annual deductible for single-person policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire. Average deductibles across single and family plans amounted to 4.8 percent of median income in 2017, up from 2.7 percent in 2008. In three states (Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee), average deductibles comprised more than 6 percent of median income.

* Combined, average employee premium contributions and potential out-of-pocket spending to meet deductibles across single and family policies rose to $7,240 in 2017 and was $8,000 or more in eight states. Nationally, this potential spending amounted to 11.7 percent of median income in 2017, up from 7.8 percent a decade earlier. In Louisiana and Mississippi, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.

Worker payments for employer coverage are growing faster than median income.

The average employee premium cost across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008.

Average deductibles are also outpacing growth in median income.

In many states, even though costs are rising, people are not getting insurance that protects them more because deductibles are also increasing.

Still think that the free market works for health care? Guess again.

We are the only advanced nation that refuses to give its citizens universal health care like other similar nations do. This “growth” is unsustainable and will lead to single-payer health care.

 

National Health Care Spending In 2017: Growth Slows To Post–Great Recession Rates; Share Of GDP Stabilizes | Health Affairs

Yesterday, Health Affairs reported that spending on health care was slowing to post-Great Recession rates, and that its share of GDP stabilized. However, total nominal US health care spending increased 3.9 percent to $3.5 trillion in 2017, slowing from growth of 4.8 percent in 2016.

Yet, the authors stated that, “For a health sector that now accounts for nearly one-fifth of the US economy, future increases in health care expenditures will likely lead to policy decisions focused on affordability and sustainability.”

What are those policy decisions that will focus on affordability and sustainability? Single Payer, Medicare for All so that all Americans are covered, and receive all medical care they need without having to go into bankruptcy or to set up a “GoFund Me” account, or other similar application.

Just because the spending slowed to pre-Recession rates does not mean we are in the clear and all will be right with the health care world. As happens when we graph any statistics, there will always be a point in time when what looks like good news turns bad, and when bad news turns good. One day the market is up, the next it is down. That’s why they are depicted with lines instead of bars or circles or other graphic designs.

Source: National Health Care Spending In 2017: Growth Slows To Post–Great Recession Rates; Share Of GDP Stabilizes | Health Affairs

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/

Gauze: A Film by Suzanne Garber

Nearly a year ago, while channel surfing, I came across a short film being shown on my local South Florida Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station.

As I missed most of it, I was able to learn the name of the filmmaker from the credits, and saw that she had interviewed some of the leading names in the medical travel space.

One individual I saw listed in the credits was Keith Pollard, with whom I was connected with on LinkedIn, and had communicated over the years since I began blogging about medical travel. I reached out to Keith to ask him to put me in touch with the filmmaker, Suzanne Garber.

I later learned from Keith that before she gave Keith her permission to forward her email address to me, she wanted to know if I was legitimate. Keith vouched for me without hesitation, and I reached out to Suzanne.

Unfortunately, due to ownership of the rights to the film by PBS, it has taken nearly a year for me to get to see it. What follows is my review of her film, “Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare”.

The film is a personal account of Suzanne’s exploration into the difference between US healthcare, with its bureaucracy and lack of transparency regarding cost to patients; plus its affordability, accessibility, and quality — the three characteristics of healthcare, according to Suzanne.

Suzanne had gone through some personal medical issues, and the film begins with her discussing statements she received that were very expensive. At one point, she describes how she was forced to sign a form at a hospital in order to get service that said she was responsible for the full amount if her insurance company refused to pay.

She asked the woman at the desk who gave her the form if she knew what it would cost her, and the woman replied that she did not know, so Suzanne said that she was signing away her right to know how much it could cost her.

Then Suzanne asked some of her friends the following question: where is the best healthcare?

Having been an executive credentialing hospitals for a company she was working for, Suzanne had vast experience visiting hospitals, and had personal experience of being admitted to a hospital in Spain as a child. She decided to go and visit some of the hospitals that cater to medical travel patients.

From 2014- 2015, she visited 24 countries, 174 hospitals, and interviewed over five dozen international healthcare experts. She wanted to know the answer to the following questions: Where to go, and where not to go?

But it was when she had a medical diagnosis of cancer that she traveled thousands of miles, flying from Philadelphia to Chicago, to Tokyo, and then to Bangkok, where she went to Bumrungrad Hospital. By that time, her position had been eliminated, she was unemployed and uninsured, so she took the chance and went.

She traveled to Singapore to get a second opinion with an orthopedist. A doctor there wanted to perform a bone density scan, and even though she brought along all of her MRIs, CAT scans, etc., the doctor had her go downstairs, wait forty-five minutes, and then go back upstairs to see the doctor after the results were entered into the computer.

In all, it cost Suzanne $29 dollars, not the amount she was quoted back in the US. And all this took one day.

As part of her journey, she visited the UK, India, and visited several hospitals in France. And what she found was that there is no one way to improve our healthcare, but it is possible. We need to ask questions, we need to contact our elected representatives, and we need to take responsibility for our healthcare.

A personal note: This film when shown on PBS last year, had a long list of names Suzanne interviewed. In addition to Keith Pollard, one other person, Rajesh Rao of IndUSHealth, was someone I met in 2014 at the ProMed conference in Miami Beach. Some other names in that list were familiar to me, but as of this screening, does not appear. One more comment, I was able to view the film online, but am not able to provide readers with a copy of it in this post.

This is a very important and timely film that should be viewed by both the health care industry and those in the workers’ compensation industry who have panned the idea of medical travel. The mere fact that Suzanne paid only $29 for a bone density scan, when she was told it would be $7,300 in the US, is not only criminal, it is insane to keep insisting that medical travel for workers’ comp is a stupid and ridiculous idea, and a non-starter, as one so-called expert has written.

When are you people in work comp going to wake up? You and your insurance carriers are being ripped off by an expensive medical-industrial complex. But you just go on doing the same things over and over again, and expect different results, or you boast that frequency is going down, yet medical costs are still too high. The choice is yours, but don’t keep making the same mistake.

I want to thank Suzanne for her patience in bearing with my periodic emails regarding my viewing the film, and for being courageous enough to put her personal struggles with health and health care front and center, and comparing it to our so-called health care system. I hope that Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare will be seen by all those interested in better health care for all Americans, workers or not.

 

Health Care Costs Rising for Workers

Axios is reporting that health care costs for workers is rising while overall costs of employer-based health benefits is growing modestly from year to year.

This is slowly eating up all of the average workers wage increases, and then some, as reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s  2018 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The survey covers the last ten years, from 2008 to 2018. Most of where the employees are paying for health care comes from deductibles, which has seen a +212% increase over that period, and is out of pocket. These costs, the survey said, is rising faster than inflation and wages.

Premiums for families have risen over this period +55%, while workers’ earnings have risen +26%, and inflation has risen +17%.

According to Kaiser, employees are paying an average of about $1,200 per year in premiums. That’s 65% more than what they paid in 2008, for single coverage plans that cover only the worker, no family members.

Besides the increase in deductibles, the number of employees who have a deductible has gone up, and the number of employees with above-average deductibles is up as well.

Three takeaways:

  • More patients are more attuned to the high costs of care.
  • The underlying cost of health care services is growing relatively slowly right now, compared to historical trends.
  • But there’s a sense, at least among some liberal-leaning health care experts, that employers have just about maxed out their ability to shift more costs onto employees — meaning that once price increases start to pick up steam again, businesses and workers will both feel the pain quickly.

What does this mean?

As workers’ wages are stagnant, and health care costs are rising, shifting the cost of health care onto the backs of workers is not only counterproductive to lowering the cost of health care, it puts an undue burden on those who can least afford to shell out more of their hard earned income on health care, especially when they have a serious medical issue to deal with.

Single payer will relieve the worker from having to pay out of pocket when wages are stagnant, and when wages rise again. This will enable them to have more money to spend on things that otherwise would have been prohibitive before.

To do no less is to saddle the working class with perpetual debt and decreased economic power. Not a good way to run an economy.