Tag Archives: Medicaid

Executive (Dis)order

The signing this morning of an executive order by the Orangutan will have, in the opinion of some of the bloggers and politicians, spell disaster for the nation’s health care system.

It will, if carried into action, likely siphon healthy people from the Affordable Care Act-compliant market, continuing a pattern of regulatory actions under the Trump administration that have undermined the ACA.

The rationale for such a move that has been given is that since Congress has not been able to repeal and replace the ACA, an executive order will, piece by piece.

Coupled with the recent budget move to eliminate the CHIP program for children’s health (New York State faces dire consequences if Congress does not act on CHIP), and cut backs to Medicare and Medicaid, the intent here is to privatize health care for some, and eliminate it for others, and to get government out of health care providing altogether.

There are provisions in this order for greater competition, short-term coverage, and lower premiums with less coverage. Why this is better is beyond me, unless the Orangutan is seeking to destroy health care so that single-payer will be the only option.

Cutting healthy people out of the ACA means leaving sick people to struggle with a health care law that many say needs to be fixed, not repealed and replaced. But because the Tea Party ranted and raved before it was enacted, and the Orangutan and the GOP campaigned on getting rid of it, they had no choice but to sabotage it if they could not do so through legislation.

I predict that we will soon see the total collapse of our health care system thanks to this stupid, overreaching, and ill-advised Executive Order. I even read today that the Vice President had to remind the Orangutan to sign the darn thing, something that almost slipped what is left of his so-called mind.

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Now It’s Personal

Last week, some of my LinkedIn connections, as well as several other connections, learned of my recent hospitalization. The reason for this was not mentioned at the time, but I will tell you now.

Not having health insurance through an employer, and being denied renewal of a local county health care program, led to my going from Stage 4 to End Stage Kidney Disease.

The hospitalization last week was to place a catheter in me for peritoneal dialysis, and to repair an umbilical hernia.

My hospitalization was brought to light quite unexpectedly by my friend, Maria Todd. Maria’s sending best wishes for my speedy recovery and quick discharge from the hospital was much appreciated, and the warm words by others in response, and the thirty plus “likes” made me feel that people cared. For that. I am grateful.

But the events of the past month have brought home to me one very important point, given the current activity surrounding the so-called “repeal and replace” of the ACA, and the two Congressional bills that many consider doing more harm than good.

This nation needs Medicare for All.

There, I said it.

I know in the past, I have advocated single payer for others, but my illness has shown that anyone who loses health care for any amount of time, once they have reached adulthood, cannot go without health insurance.

This is what happens when men and women are removed prematurely from the workforce, for whatever reason, employer decides you are no longer wanted, economic downturn or just to eliminate positions that affect the bottom-line of the company, and are generally targeted to individuals in their 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s so that the company can save on health care costs for those employees, and so that younger workers can be hired to replace them.

This is not something new, and not related to automation and artificial intelligence disrupting whole industries, which is inevitable.

My initial view on single-payer was that if employers were no longer responsible for the health insurance of their employees, and they were guaranteed full coverage by the government, some of the job losses of the past decades would not have happened, and many talented men and women out of the workforce would be employed until their retirement.

If you don’t believe me, go to LinkedIn and read the many posts from such individuals who are still unemployed. One fellow in Texas even got turned down from jobs at fast food restaurants.

So, now it is personal for me.

I also know that many of you make your living from the health care system we currently have, and that some of you have expounded on why you think a single payer system is unrealistic.

I get it that your financial outlook depends on working in a broken, free-market system because it pays your salary, but healthcare was not supposed to be a business, nor was it supposed to marketed like any other commodity.

If you don’t believe me, read what Pope Francis said: “health is not a consumer good, but rather a universal right, and therefore access to health care services cannot be a privilege.”

But try telling that to Messrs. McConnell, Ryan, Paul, et al in Congress, and the current POTUS, all of whom want to eliminate medical coverage for millions of Americans they received under the ACA, cut back Medicare and Medicaid, and destroy Social Security.

Now that I will be receiving dialysis, and quite likely will qualify for disability, the prospect of not having those resources is very personal to me, and could literally mean my life.

Look in the mirror, then look at your spouse, your children, your parents, your neighbors, friends, etc. What do you think would happen to them if these programs were eliminated? Would you have enough money to care for them? Would you have money to pay for private insurance?

I lost my mother last month to dementia. She died on her 85th birthday in a nursing home some miles from my home (the home she and my father bought), but if the Republicans in Congress had gotten their way, and she had lived longer, I feared she would have been forced out of that nursing home, with no place to go, and would have been an even bigger burden to me.

So, I really don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Socialist, Liberal, or Conservative, we all need health care at some point in our lives.

One of the friends I met here in Florida back in the 90’s died last July of a stroke. He was 73. He worked out, never smoked, had a good life, three kids, and like many of you, worked in Risk Management, as well as Human Resources, the legal profession, and served in Vietnam. But despite all that, he died prematurely, and went into involuntary retirement because he was in his 60’s. Luckily, his wife worked. But you get the picture.

We must all do our part to see that every American can get health care. Not just access to care, which is a Republican euphemism for being able to afford it, and if you can’t, too bad. But actual health insurance. Medicare for All.

Disaster Averted

Yesterday’s crushing defeat of the so-called “American Health Care Act” or AHCA, signals the end of the seven-year long attempt by the Republican Party to legislatively kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Yet, as was pointed out on one cable news network last night, it won’t stop the health insurance industry from getting the Republicans in Congress to kill parts of the law slowly by eliminating the taxes that go to pay for the coverage.

Call it “genocide by stealth”, since millions of Americans will die, as per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO’s) scoring of AHCA. If they can’t kill the law outright, the so-called “Freedom Caucus”, actually the Congressional version of the Tea Party, will kill it slowly.

Why do you think they keep saying it is a disaster and it is crumbling? It’s because they are dead set against anyone getting health care unless someone else can make a profit from selling a policy.

Then there is the other question, the one usually raised by liberals and progressives, especially those who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders last year in the primaries, as to why we are the only Western country without universal coverage.

The answer is complex, but not complicated (“who knew health care was so complicated?). First, everything the government of the US has ever implemented for the benefit of people has had to pass muster with the Constitution. It either has to be covered by the Constitution directly, or implied through the taxing mechanism.

Second, the Founding Fathers never mentioned or promoted the right to health care, as the prevailing political and social philosophy of the day was concerned with freedom, liberty, and private property. It has been unclear what, if anything, was meant by the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, let alone, the phrase, “promote the general welfare.”

Why they never mentioned health care and why other nations have it, is due to the fact that the US was founded during the first half of the period historians call, “the Enlightenment”, when the right to private property, liberty, and freedom were the topics of discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. Basically, the difference between Classical Liberalism (Conservatism) and Modern Liberalism (Liberalism) is between negative rights (the right not to be killed) versus positive rights (the right to a job, education, housing, health care, etc.)

Canada gained its limited independence from Britain nearly a hundred years after we did, and therefore was influenced by the philosophy of the second half of the Enlightenment, which stressed involvement by government in the economy.

The only time the Founders cared about providing some kind of health care plan was directed towards a particular group of citizens in the late eighteenth century, as I wrote about in this post.

What is now called the Public Health Service began as a government-sponsored, health plan for merchant sailors on ships entering and leaving US ports and on inland waterways. It was never challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, nor was it ever attacked by members of the opposition party. In fact, it was supported by both Federalists and Anti-Federalist politicians of the day.

The third reason why we don’t have universal, single-payer is because the government allowed employers to provide coverage during WWII to attract women into the workplace when the men went overseas. The UK is often cited as an example for single-payer, but what most supporters of this type of plan do not realize is that because of the devastation the UK suffered at the hands of German bombs, their health care system needed to be re-built from scratch, so the government stepped in with the NHS. Even Churchill supported it.

Fourth, we have always provided health care to certain at risk groups like the poor (Medicaid), the elderly (Medicare), and to children (CHIP), as well as to former service persons and their families (Tricare), etc. Perhaps the way to begin to get universal coverage is to merge all of these programs into one, then expand it to cover everyone else.

But for the time being, a major disaster was averted, but we should not think this is the end of the debate, nor is there victory. The battle lines are drawn, and the enemy is not surrendering. This is not a time for congratulation, but for vigilance and resolve.

 

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Winston Churchill

“Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Winston Churchill

 

Veering away from the usual topics covered in this blog, I thought about some recent articles I saw about the attempt to repeal and replace, or to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the current political regime wants to do.

The first article, in yesterday’s [failing] New York Times, warned that repealing the ACA would make it harder for people to retire early. Those who retire early, before reaching 65, can get retiree coverage from their former employers, but not many companies offer that coverage.

Those early retirees poor enough could turn to Medicaid, and everyone else would have to go to the individual market. Without the ACA, health care coverage would be more difficult to get, cost consumers more where available, and provide fewer benefits.

According to the article, if the ACA is repealed, retiring early would become less feasible for many Americans. This is called job-lock, or the need to maintain a job to get health insurance.

This is one of the concerns the ACA was supposed to address, in that it would reduce or eliminate job lock. Repealing the law could, according to the article, affect employment and retirement decisions.

The second article, from Joe Paduda, also from yesterday, reported that improving healthcare will hurt the economy, and Joe lays out the arguments for doing something or doing nothing to improve health care and what effect they would have on economic growth.

For example, Joe states that healthcare employs 15.5 million full time workers, or 1 out of every 9 job. In two years, this will surpass retail employment. As Joe rightly points out, those jobs are funded by employers and taxpayers. He suggests that some experts argue that healthcare is “crowding out” economic expansion in other sectors, thereby hurting growth overall.

But Joe also points out that by controlling health care costs, employment will be cut, and stock prices for pharmaceutical companies, margins for medical device firms, and bonuses at health plans will also be affected.

So, if cost control and increasing efficiency works, these lost jobs, reduced profits, and lower margins, Joe says, will hurt the economy. The economy will suffer if the health care sector is more efficient, and since healthcare is also a huge employment generator and an inefficient industry, fixing that inefficiency will reduce employment and growth.

Thus, the title of this article, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, a certain quote has been making the rounds through the media. It was uttered by Number 45. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Yes, it is complicated and complex, but does it have to be so? If we consider the second Churchill quote above, and realize that the UK, France, Germany, Canada, and many other Western countries have some form of single payer, then one must conclude that it is only the US that has complicated and made too complex, the providing of health care to all of its citizens.

There are many reasons for this, which is beyond the scope of this article or blog, but there is one overriding reason for this complexity…GREED. Not the greed of wanting more of one thing, but the greed of profit, as one executive from an insurance company stated recently.

This brings me to the last of the articles I ran across yesterday. It was posted on LinkedIn by Dave Chase, founder of the Health Rosetta Institute. He cited a segment on the Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson program, in which Carlson interviewed a former hospital president who said that pricing was the main problem with the US healthcare system.

Mr. Chase does not solely rely on Carlson’s guest in his article, but cites other experts in the field as evidence that pricing failure is to blame.

If we are to except this as true, then it buttresses my point that the overriding problem is greed, for what else is the failure to control prices but a symptom of greed inherent in the American health care system, and something that does not exist elsewhere in the Western world.

Which brings me to Churchill’s first quote above. Since we Americans have tried the free market system of health care wanting, and have tried a reformed free market system, perhaps it is time to go all the way to a government-sponsored, Medicare for All, single payer system.

The bottom line is: we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils.

UPDATE: Here is Joe’s take on what will happen to the ACA in the next two years. I agree with his assessment.

ACA Repeal Opens Up Medical Travel: A Second Look

Note: Here is Laura’s second article on repeal of the ACA and its’ impact on medical travel. She breaks the article down by areas of the healthcare industry that will be affected by repeal and that might benefit from medical travel.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act Impacts International Medical Travel
by Laura Carabello

wphealthcarenews.com- The repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been met with considerable market uncertainty. As the transition gets underway, many Americans will be scrambling to access affordable, quality care.

Fortunately, the international medical travel industry -“Travel for Treatment” – may finally gain the attention it deserves from the American public and U.S. employers. Experts predict that the number of Americans traveling abroad for medical care or episodes of treatment is expected to increase 25 percent annually over the next decade.

Medical travelers are likely to come from every market sector: the growing ranks of uninsured individuals, self-insured employers facing higher healthcare expenditures, disenfranchised Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as Medicare enrollees with high out-of-pocket expenditures and the loss of coverage for preventive care.

Individual Consumers
Once “minimum essential healthcare coverage” is no longer mandated, the burden of payment will transfer onto healthcare providers and systems that will be forced to continue cost shifting onto the backs of paying customers.

Fewer insurance companies will be willing to underwrite coverage in the exchanges. In fact, many will leave the individual marketplaces altogether because of the potential loss of federal subsidies for both beneficiaries and insurance companies themselves.

Burdened by hefty cost-shifting, more Americans will be forced to pay out of their own pockets for surgeries or treatments in the U.S. Those who can afford a plane ticket will find it increasingly attractive to travel outside the country for quality, affordable options, such as joint replacement, cardio-thoracic surgery, oncology, bariatrics, and a host of other medical procedures, including treatment for Hepatitis C.

Low-Income (Medicaid) and Seniors (Medicare)
For Medicaid beneficiaries who remained optimistic that their home state would offer expanded coverage, their prospects look dim. The unraveling of the ACA will leave millions of the poorest and sickest Americans without insurance. Many states may either abandon Medicaid expansion or be forced to significantly redesign their programs to ensure that individuals below 400 percent of the federal poverty level can receive affordable healthcare coverage and services.

While these low-income families may not have cash reserves to fund expensive care in the U.S., they might be able to gather the resources to access needed surgeries overseas – and pay less than half of the US rates. Those who have emigrated from Latin American countries, in particular, will take advantage of opportunities to travel to their homelands to gain access to care that is substantially less expensive, and in a familiar setting.

The 57 million senior citizens and disabled Americans enrolled in Medicare could also benefit from accessing international medical travel. Under a full repeal of the ACA, seniors face higher deductibles and co-payments for their Part A, which covers hospital stays, and higher premiums and deductibles for Part B, which pays for doctor visits and other services. Medicare enrollees may also lose some of their free preventative benefits, such as screenings for breast and colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The opportunity to access quality care at lower costs – plus prescription drugs that are sold at far lower price points outside the US – present attractive options.

Employers
Healthcare will continue to be driven through employers, and cost pressures will push high-deductible plans, risk-based contracting and consumerism. In the United States today, even a negotiated, discounted rate for a total knee replacement at a local hospital may well exceed $45,000, $60,000, or more. The bottom line for self-insured employers – the coverage model that now dominates the marketplace: even after factoring in the cost of travel and accommodations for the patient and the companion, as well as waiving deductibles and co-pays as incentives to program adoption, the savings on surgical procedures such as joint replacement are significant.

Employers will also be more likely to send workers to emerging COEs outside the country in light of the many partnerships that are underway between US providers and foreign hospitals. These collaborative programs are bringing American ingenuity, sophisticated technology and advanced levels of care to institutions throughout the world.

Quality and safety standards at many institutions are now equal to or exceed US benchmarks. Many foreign hospitals are accredited by Joint Commission International, an extension of the US-based Joint Commission. Select hospitals outside the country adhere to US clinical protocols.

In fact, one organization that serves self-insured employers – North American Specialty Hospital in Cancun – even offers U.S. surgeons with US malpractice insurance who perform pre- and post-operative care in the US and then travel to Cancun for surgery. This ensures continuous engagement and continuity of care.

Hospitals
The ACA has contributed to hospitals experiencing higher volumes of insured patients, but those volumes would drop with the law’s repeal. It could also cause fewer people to keep prescription coverage, which would be modestly negative for the pharmaceutical industry.

Experts believe the majority of primary care physicians are open to changes in the law but overwhelmingly oppose full repeal, according to a survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Insurance coverage for the 20 million people who obtained insurance from the exchanges sparked growth in patient numbers for hospitals, which offset lower payments. Without this, hospitals can expect deepening economic problems. This could lead to higher prices, and greater impetus among individuals to seek medical care outside of the U.S.

Key Destinations for International Medical Travel
With the growing ranks of uninsured, medical travel options are likely to emerge as a critical solution to healthcare cost woes. Hospitals and providers in nearby locations such as Latin America – known as the LAC Region – are likely to become destinations of choice: less expensive travel expenses, reduced language barriers, and cultural familiarity. Individuals and employers will require guidance in terms of choosing the right providers and determining costs to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

To view the original article, click here.

All Quiet on the Medical Tourism Front

It’s been a while since I posted anything on medical travel, so you will forgive me for taking liberties with the title of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about the First World War.

I guess the lull can be attributed to the shock of realizing that the current occupant of the White House is totally unfit and may be reckless, so the world is holding its collective breath to see what happens.

Or, it could be that you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and by that, I mean, what will happen to the Affordable Care Act now that he has signed an executive order to dismantle it.

This much we do know. What we don’t know is will the Republicans in Congress repeal it completely, or will they replace parts of it. And what does you-know-who want? Canadian-style health care, as some have suggested he favors? And we also know that his nominee for Health and Human Services is against the ACA, and the Speaker of the House wants to kill Medicare and Medicaid.

Your guess is as good as mine. But whatever happens, it is certain that the industry needs to be prepared, because once people lose their coverage, they will need alternatives to high cost medical care here.

A total repeal would be catastrophic for health care in this country. Replacing it with something worse will also be bad for the health care industry, but may offer a way for medical travel to finally get a hearing with the American people, at least those who can afford to go abroad after losing their ACA coverage.

Those covered under Medicaid when their states expanded coverage will be the ones to lose the most, since they are the poorest and sickest. Those who purchased coverage through the exchanges and paid lower premiums than those who paid higher premiums, may be right for medical travel, if the industry goes after them.

Predictions are that should the ACA be repealed, premiums for everyone will go up. So, it is imperative that the industry be ready, willing, and able to handle the influx of new patients, and not just for boutique procedures and expensive treatments.

I said this once before, and I will say it again, the market will not come to you; you must go to the market. You must show Americans that there is an alternative to high cost care in the US, and for obvious reasons, only those locations within a three-hour flight will be possible.

BTW, if any of you need someone to work on a project for medical travel between the US and your country, let me know. You know me by now, so don’t be a stranger.

I’m Back

To quote Michael Corleone, in the Godfather, Part III, “just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” To blogging again, that is; not joining the Mob.

There is so much to catch up on in my absence, that I decided to apprise you, my loyal readers, of a subject I discussed earlier this year, the proposed Amendment 69 in the state of Colorado.

To refresh your memories, Amendment 69 (couldn’t they come up with another number?), also called “ColoradoCare”, was an attempt to create a single-payer system in the Rockies.

My previous three posts, “Colorado Gets Real on Workers’ Comp and Health Care”, “Colorado “Single Payer” in Health Care Industry’s Sights”, and “A Little Disruption is a Good Thing” outlined the plan for single-payer, the opposition to single-payer from the health care industry, and how it would be a good thing to have some disruption, especially in workers’ comp.

My writing on the subject also got the notice of a fellow writer, Katie Kuehner-Hebert, of Workers Comp Forum, a sister publication of Risk & Insurance magazine. Her article discussed whether the proposed amendment would be helpful or harmful for workers’ comp payers.

Last month, the voters in Colorado defeated the measure by a wide margin. On election night, at 8:30 p.m., with nearly 1.8 million votes counted across the state, the amendment was trailing 79.6% to 20.4%. Vote totals at 7 a.m., the next morning, with 86 percent of the vote counted, the measure continued trailing at roughly the same percentage or 1,833,879 to 467,424.

As reported in the Denver Post by John Ingold, throughout the campaign, the measure had polled better with Democrats than Republicans, and even in left-leaning Denver, the amendment lost by 2-to-1.

What does the defeat of the single-payer measure mean for the future of health care and possibly workers’ comp?

It means that until there is a nation-wide push for single-payer, state-specific measures such as Amendment 69 will either go down to defeat, or be scraped altogether, as happened in Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont. Amendment 69 was an attempt to get there, but as I followed up some weeks later, it was targeted by the health care industry, and never had a chance.

That brings me to my next topic. The recent political campaign that witnessed a misogynistic, egomaniacal, sexist, racist, Corporatist/Fascist bully and demagogue elected president, and a Congress of like-minded semi-demagogues.

Now this capitalist clown is appointing men to his cabinet who stand in opposition to many things the American people believe in, and one man, Representative Tom Price, R-GA , an ardent opponent of the ACA, is to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the department which oversees the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who makes the rules for the health care law and the other medical insurance programs of the government.

Folks, that’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Sooner or later, the chickens are going to be devoured, except it won’t be dead chickens lying around, but millions of Americans who will lose their health care newly won, and who may die because of it.

We still don’t know what will happen to the ACA after January 20th, because that man refuses to release his tax returns, refuses to commit to anything and goes off on tirades on Twitter to anyone who gets in his way. But I believe that this idiot and Congress will take away not only health care for millions, but eliminate Medicare and Medicaid, which is what Speaker Paul Ryan wants to do, but may be forced to back down once opposition gets wind of it.

Either way, health care in this country will get worse, not better.

That moron soon to occupy the White House has even nominated the CEO of a fast food chain to be Secretary of Labor. This guy, Andy Pudzer (or is it Putzer?, or just plain Putz?) wants to replace fast food workers with robots. Methinks he is one.

True, by 2025, it is predicted that 50% of all occupations will be replaced by automation, but the reason Pudzer wants to replace fast food workers with robots is so that the companies won’t have to pay living wages of $15 an hour to their workers.

I guess this putz would like to see workers thrown out into the street, especially younger minority workers who generally take these jobs to give themselves some work experience, and older workers left out of the changing economy.

You know what 50% less workers mean for workers’ comp? 50% less claims adjusters, physical therapists, durable medical equipment companies, pharmacy benefit management personnel, etc.

It also means that there will be more unease, anger, and maybe even violence. The kind of violence that has been avoided for decades, and that was predicted more than one hundred and fifty years ago by a certain German writer. And what if that 50% goes to 75%? What then?

One idea is to give these permanently unemployed a universal basic income (UBI), but with this Congress, that too will not happen.

There is an old Chinese curse that is appropriate now: “May you live in interesting times.” Interesting, possibly; dangerous, most definitely.