Tag Archives: Medical Costs

The $8,000 Rip-off That Is Healthcare

Picking up on a theme I presented in two earlier posts this year, Health Care is Not a Market  and The Free Market Utopian Fantasy, Joe Paduda today asks “what would you do with another $8,000?”

Joe’s post outlines how providers, big pharma, device companies, and healthplans make money from a system designed to do so, and not to help you and your family stay healthy and functional. [ Emphasis Joe’s]

He shows us graphically how big health sector profit margins are, how we spend more than any other country, but die younger, and how healthcare premiums and deductibles and out of pocket costs keep climbing, but wages do not.

His one key point, is the following:

Healthcare is not, and cannot ever be, a free market. A free market requires buyers have the ability to make sellers respond to buyers’ needs – yet we all know we consumers have zero ability to make pharma, hospitals, big doctor groups, device companies respond to our needs.

Lastly, Joe asks the question: “If air travel worked like health care?” [Video link]

Would you rely on the airlines with your health care? Would you rely on the health care industry to fly you to your nephew’s wedding in Orlando? Of course, not.

So, why would you continue to defend, support and protect a dysfunctional, broken, wasteful, bloated, health care system that does not work like the free market, but only makes huge profits for the insurance companies, drug companies, device manufacturers, hospitals, investors, stock and shareholders.

And yes, you hanger’s on in consulting and research organizations who constantly attack single payer health care because it, one, puts you out of a job, and two, takes away any profits you and your company makes from advising  on or researching how to squeeze more profit out of the system.

One thing is for certain. I could sure use that $8,000 right now. My health care and other issues have taken a lot more from me than $8,000, but I’d settle for that. Wouldn’t you?

Friday Morning Catch-Up

It’s been a while, so I thought I’d play catch-up this morning with some relevant postings from Don McCanne and Joe Paduda.

First up is an article from The New York Times of December 3rd by Margot Sanger-Katz. The article, “Why the Less Disruptive Health Care Option Could Be Plenty Disruptive” explains that moderate Democratic plans for health care that does not fall in line with those proposed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can be as disruptive as not implementing Medicare for All.

Sanger-Katz writes: “The single-payer health plans proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are often assailed as being too disruptive. A government plan for everyone, the argument goes, would mean that tens of millions of Americans would have to give up health insurance they like.

Democratic presidential candidates with more moderate brands have their own proposal: a “public option” that would preserve the current private insurance market, while giving people the opportunity to choose government insurance.

A public option would be less disruptive than a plan that instantly eliminated private insurance. But a public option that is inexpensive and attractive could shake up the private market and also wind up erasing some current insurance arrangements. Conversely, a public option that is expensive and unattractive might not do much good at all.

A public option would cover a smaller population at first, and might have to negotiate with hospitals for good deals, just as other insurance companies do. In those circumstances, several economists said, the public option might look a lot like existing insurance: pretty expensive, and covering a limited set of doctors and hospitals.”

Next, Health Affairs published an article by Tara Straw, also on December 3rd, that examines how low-income workers fare poorly under the ACA. According to Ms. Straw, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) extended health coverage to more than 20 million people and strengthened consumer protections for millions more, but it didn’t dramatically change employer-sponsored coverage, the primary source of private health insurance. Employer coverage often works well, allowing many people to enroll in comprehensive health benefits using employer contributions that make premiums affordable. But compared to middle and upper-income employees, low-income workers are often offered less robust coverage, get less employer help with their premiums, and must pay a greater share of their income toward health care costs. Among workers with job-based coverage, those with income below 200 percent of the poverty line spend 14 percent of their income on premiums and out-of-pocket costs, on average. That’s far more than people between 200 and 400 percent of poverty, who spend 7.9 percent of their income, and people over 400 percent of poverty, who spend only 4.5 percent.

Some low-income workers are actually worse off with an offer of employer-sponsored coverage than without one because it locks them out of premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility in the ACA’s health insurance Marketplaces, a prohibition known as the “firewall.”

Under the ACA, the worker’s share of the employee-only premium must not exceed 9.86 percent of family income (in 2019), irrespective of the cost of family coverage, and the plan must cover at least 60 percent of expected medical costs. When an employer’s coverage offer meets that low federal bar, the ACA’s firewall provision makes low-income workers and their family members ineligible to receive a PTC for Marketplace coverage. However, employer coverage that meets the ACA standard may be more expensive and less comprehensive than Marketplace coverage. For example, under the ACA standard, a worker making $18,000 (about 150 percent of poverty) could pay up to nearly $1,800 toward premiums for single coverage in an employer plan. But if allowed to purchase a benchmark Marketplace plan, the worker’s expected contribution, net of the PTC, would be less than $750 (4.15 percent of income in 2019).

Again from Health Affairs, comes the following on national health spending in 2018:

Abstract

US health care spending increased 4.6 percent to reach $3.6 trillion in 2018, a faster growth rate than the rate of 4.2 percent in 2017 but the same rate as in 2016. The share of the economy devoted to health care spending declined to 17.7 percent in 2018, compared to 17.9 percent in 2017. The 0.4-percentage-point acceleration in overall growth in 2018 was driven by faster growth in both private health insurance and Medicare, which were influenced by the reinstatement of the health insurance tax. For personal health care spending (which accounted for 84 percent of national health care spending), growth in 2018 remained unchanged from 2017 at 4.1 percent. The total number of uninsured people increased by 1.0 million for the second year in a row, to reach 30.7 million in 2018.”

Additionally, CMS published the National Health Expenditure Fact Sheet (NHE).

Next, Christopher Cai and James Kahn wrote in Health Affairs that Medicare for All would improve hospital financing. According to Cai and Kahn, “Hospitals account for more than one trillion dollars of health expenditures annually, and analysts have raised concerns that a shift to single payer, or Medicare for All, might adversely affect hospital care. A common narrative has emerged in the popular press and in medical journals, suggesting that Medicare for All would decrease reimbursements and force hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, to cut back on much needed services or even close altogether. These concerns have received increased attention with Elizabeth Warren’s recently released financial proposal for Medicare for All. Understandably, these points have raised concern about the feasibility of Medicare for All. But is this narrative evidence based?

Their conclusion states that “Under single payer, patients could choose any doctor and hospital, everyone would be insured, and bureaucratic burdens would be greatly diminished. Furthermore, under global budgeting, payment levels would be monitored and adjusted over time by a panel of health care experts.

And lastly, here is a post from Joe Paduda of a Gallop poll that says Americans can’t afford healthcare, According to Joe, Gallup reported that quarter of Americans have put off treatment for serious medical conditions because they can’t afford it.

These are the reasons they can’t afford it:

  • US physicians make twice what docs in other countries do
  • Drug costs are much higher here than elsewhere
  • Hospitals are making bank
  • Administrative costs are twice what they are in other developed countries.

Physician incomes by specialty exceed $400,000. No wonder Americans can’t afford health care. The doctors are making more than they are.

So, the future of health care as we know it looks very bleak from these and other experts on the matter. It would be criminal for any rational person to not explore the Medicare for All/ single Payer option, rather than to continue to prop up a market-based system that is out of control and getting worse every year.

But so long as many Americans claim they like their private health insurance, whether it is from their employer or they purchase it directly from an insurance carrier, the fact remains that no other solution will fix the problems other than Medicare for All.

All Americans need to realize this before it is too late.

Don’t Listen to the Noise Coming From Naysayers

Quote of the Day re-posted this article from Common Dreams on why those in the Democratic Party are wrong to dismiss Medicare for All. You hear them during the debates, and as any well-informed advocate of MFA knows, their arguments are red herrings and even outright lies and misinformation.

Here is the article:

Published on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 by CNN

Democratic Naysayers Are Wrong on Medicare for All

“Americans know that their current private health care payments, whether insurance premiums or out-of-pocket, are nothing other than ‘taxes’ they pay to stay alive.”

Supporters rally for universal health care in Chicago. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The American political debate over health care is absurd. Americans pay twice as much as any other nation for health care, and then are told daily that they “can’t afford” to switch to a lower-cost system very similar to those of Canada and Europe. If President Donald Trump and the plutocratic Republican party were the only ones carrying this ridiculous message, it would be understandable. Yet this message is also coming from media pundits aligned with the Democratic Party and the most conservative wing of the party.

Let’s be clear on the central point. Medicare for All, as first proposed by Bernie Sanders and endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, is affordable precisely because it is cheaper, much cheaper, than the current system.

America’s health care system relies on local monopolies (such as a health care provider centered at the sole major hospital in a city) and national monopolies, notably pharmaceutical companies holding exclusive patents.

In other countries, the government sets delivery prices and typically pays the health bills through the budget. In the US, the monopolists set the prices.

The sky-high revenues end up as huge corporate profits, wasteful administrative costs, useless and even harmful advertising and lavish salaries. Health care CEOs are making gargantuan salaries, many exceeding $10 million per year.

Who loses? Almost all Americans, whose insurance costs and out-of-pocket outlays inevitably lead to lower income because of unaffordable health care costs, untreated chronic illnesses, premature mortality and personal bankruptcies. Single-payer systems such as in Canada and Europe are cheaper, fairer and have better outcomes.

A recent international comparison of the performance of 11 national health systems on five main dimensions (care process, access, efficiency, equity and health care outcomes) ranked the US health system dead last.

Despite all of this, the US pundits profess to be alarmed about the prospect of Medicare for All. There has been a wave of op-eds and columns published (for example, here and here and here) declaring that Medicare for All would lead to massive tax increases, and that Sanders’ and Warren’s support for Medicare for All threatens to reelect Trump. It’s ridiculous.

Both Sanders and Warren poll well against Trump, ahead in the overall popular vote (though like all Democrats, facing headwinds of the Electoral College).

And at this stage of a national campaign, the goal should be to explain to voters the vast benefits of a single-payer system rather than to prejudge the politics based on self-fulfilling fear-mongering.

Yes, one way or another, taxes would rise with Medicare for All, but private health outlays would go down by much more. Total health costs would fall.

That idea is not so hard to understand.

One influential pundit, economist Paul Krugman, has come around. In the 2016 election cycle, Krugman railed against Medicare for All. Yet after Warren laid out her proposal, Krugman supported Medicare for All. In truth, he was simply returning to the economically sound observations that he had long made before 2016.

The pundits seem to believe that Americans will rebel at “higher taxes.” Actually, Americans are much smarter than that. They know that their current private health care payments, whether insurance premiums or out-of-pocket, are nothing other than “taxes” they pay to stay alive. They’ll agree to pay higher taxes to the government if those new taxes eliminate larger private health care bills — again, there are “taxes” by any other name — that they now pay.

Some mainstream pundits are simply repeating what they hear from Democratic Party conservatives and centrists, the wing that has been dominant since Clinton’s election in 1992. They are following the lead of Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg and others who are trashing Medicare for All.

What in the world are these leading Democratic Party politicians doing in opposing the transition to a fairer, more efficient and lower cost health care system? I would suggest it’s not a lack of understanding. It’s the power of campaign financing. These Democrats are funded by the status quo. The health sector contributed $265 million to federal campaigns in 2018, of which 56% went to Democrats. The sector spends nearly $500 million per year on lobbying. Money talks. Meanwhile, Americans go bankrupt or die early.

There remains the issue of the best way to raise budget revenues for Medicare for All. The basic answer is to use progressive taxation to fund the program. In this way, the nation as a whole will pay much less for health care and the vast majority of households will as well. The highest income households will end up paying a bit more because their funds will not only finance their own health care but will help to pay the health care costs of the poorest households as well.

Sanders rightly proposed a menu of options to pay for Medicare for All, including payroll and income taxation. Warren has proposed one specific approach: progressive taxes on the super-rich and the corporate sector but also a surprisingly regressive “head tax” on companies. She took great pride in not charging a penny of new income or payroll taxes on middle class households. But the proposed head tax on companies would hit wages indirectly and regressively.

Still, both Sanders’ and Warrens’ approaches would result in a more equitable and less expensive system. For most households, overall health care costs will decline.

The most worrisome thing about Warren’s statement as she introduced her Medicare for All plan, is her emphasis on “not one penny” of new middle-class taxes. Here we go again. The Democrats have, for far too long, copied the Republican mantra about “no new taxes,” even as our public debt soars, our infrastructure and public services collapse and inequality reaches stratospheric dimensions.

To honor the silly stricture of “no new taxes” directly paid by middle-class households, Warren ended up endorsing a regressive head tax paid by the employer, which would end up hitting lower-wage workers even though its paid by their employers.

Let’s hope this blunder is a one-time stumble for Warren. Most importantly, both Sanders and Warren are pointing the correct way to reform America’s costly, unfair and inefficient health care system. And this is a goal that most Americans support.

Jeffrey D. Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, and is director of the Millennium Villages Project. A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs as among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade. Sachs is the author, most recently, of The Age of Sustainable Development,” 2015 with Ban Ki-moon.

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Messenger

From the “I Think It’s Time for Another Rant” Department

In response to my last post, The Further Adventures of Ashley Furniture in Medical Travel, I received several comments about the facts presented in the article, which by the way was also published in The New York Times, A Mexican Hospital, an American Surgeon, and a $5,000 Check (Yes, a Check).

Now I don’t mind comments, I welcome them. But they should not be directed towards me personally, because I am not responsible for any misleading or inaccurate reporting by the author or authors of articles I write about.

Some of the comments should, rightly be directed to the individuals or organizations mentioned in the article, as they are the active participants in what the article was describing, namely the knee replacement surgery of the spouse of an employee of Ashley Furniture Company.

I would like to point out one fact I failed to mention. Ashley has sent about 150 employees or dependents to either Mexico or Costa Rica, and since 2016, they have saved $3.2 million in health care costs, according to Marcus Gagnon, the company’s manager of global benefits and health.

Mr. Gagnon, as a side note, was featured in two previous articles published by Medical Travel Today.Com back in October and November 2017. (See my posts: Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 1 and Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 2)

Points were raised as to why NASH is sending patients and exporting surgeons to other countries to perform cheaper surgery pricing? NASH stands for North American Specialty Hospital. To answer that question, go to the source, NASH.

Another point was raised about pricing, and it was mentioned that US facilities charge as low as $14,990 for a total knee replacement, implant included, as a transparent bundled case rate. Hotel room for that is $149 plus tax, no hospital overnight required. And that malpractice insurance has no additional cost, plus there is no need for expensive flights, passports, etc.

Good question, Then why does the medical travel industry exist at all in the US, if what was commented is true? The fact is, it isn’t. That’s why Ashley, and HSM, a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina has been doing this for some time, as I have previously reported, and because I met the patient advocate for one of HSM’s employees at the ProMed event in 2014.

The patient in the KHN article, Donna Ferguson, also works for a furniture manufacturer in her Mississippi home town, and I bet that her employer was sure glad it wasn’t his dime that paid for her surgery, but that her husband’s company did.

Another point was made about the “concerns about quality of care” and the way Mexico does not require continuing education credits, and other criticisms of the Mexican health care system. Yet, as the article stated, they went beyond the JCI standards, and even got an extra autoclave to sterilize instruments more quickly.

Also, a comment was made about where the surgeon was from. In this instance, he was a Mayo Clinic trained, orthopedic surgeon from Milwaukee, and he would not have done this if he felt it would ruin his standing in the profession. Oh, and maybe there have been other physicians who have traveled to meet patients elsewhere. So what. The article was talking about this one, not a whole list of them.

Yes, I have not visited Galenia or Bumrungrad, as many of you have. That has been the point of my writing a blog for nearly seven years. But I have only been to three events, and only one invited me to speak. What am I, chopped liver? I post my articles to my blog and LinkedIn so that folks can read them and invite me.

Of course, I’d like to take fam tours of facilities. Of course, I’d like to meet other people in the industry, but since October 2012 when I began, I have struggled financially, personally, and medically to just stay alive. A little concern and interest on your part would have been nice.

The other points raised in the comments about the $5000 dollars she received and fees and patents, waiving deductibles and copayments were more than likely handled by Ashley’s medical travel plan administrator, IndusHealth, who also happened to be the administrator for HSM, and whose president I also met at ProMed in 2014. Again, I am only a messenger.

Finally, a comment was made that my next to last paragraph was a stretch. Perhaps so, but in light of this past weekend’s protests in Portland between anti-fascists and fascists, and the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, not to mention, three that were foiled last week, and Trump’s Nuremburg-style rallies, I can be forgiven if I want to express an idea that could bring some people to understand what the rest of the world is like.

I am not interested in what other protests happen around the world. I am only concerned, as far as Americans and medical travel are concerned, with showing them that there are no “shithole” countries, and that there are good and bad everywhere. I believe a little on-the-ground education, especially among the working class, white or otherwise, will improve racial and ethnic relations. Call me an idealist, but that is all we have to go on if we are ever going to have peace in the world.

There was something mentioned in the article that is kind of puzzling. A medical travel expert was quoted as saying that “Building a familiar culture in a foreign destination may be appealing to some American consumers, but I do not see it as a sustainable business.” If that is so, then why is he in the business in the first place, and why is he partnered with someone else on a podcast on that very subject, and who are both known in the medical travel world?

That’s the end of my rant. I invite anyone who wants to invite me to the next event or fam tour, to do so. Please let me know in advance what you are willing to pay for, and give me enough time to make arrangements for traveling with my medical condition, as traveling outside the US is somewhat problematic, depending on where it is, and other factors that might prevent me from doing so.

And again, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Messenger.

 

ACOs Do Not Improve Spending or Quality

Thank to Dr. McCanne, I am re-posting the following article from the Annals of Internal Medicine that was published Tuesday. I have written before about MSSPs, so I thought it would be a respite from talking about single payer.

Here is the article in its entirety:

Annals of Internal Medicine
June 18, 2019
Performance in the Medicare Shared Savings Program After Accounting for Nonrandom Exit: An Instrumental Variable Analysis
By Adam A. Markovitz, BS; John M. Hollingsworth, MD, MS; John Z. Ayanian, MD, MPP; Edward C. Norton, PhD; Phyllis L. Yan, MS; Andrew M. Ryan, PhD

Abstract

Background:
Accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) are associated with modest savings. However, prior research may overstate this effect if high-cost clinicians exit ACOs.

Objective:
To evaluate the effect of the MSSP on spending and quality while accounting for clinicians’ nonrandom exit.

Design:
Similar to prior MSSP analyses, this study compared MSSP ACO participants versus control beneficiaries using adjusted longitudinal models that accounted for secular trends, market factors, and beneficiary characteristics. To further account for selection effects, the share of nearby clinicians in the MSSP was used as an instrumental variable. Hip fracture served as a falsification outcome. The authors also tested for compositional changes among MSSP participants.

Setting:
Fee-for-service Medicare, 2008 through 2014.

Patients:
A 20% sample (97 204 192 beneficiary-quarters).

Measurements:
Total spending, 4 quality indicators, and hospitalization for hip fracture.

Results:
In adjusted longitudinal models, the MSSP was associated with spending reductions (change, −$118 [95% CI, −$151 to −$85] per beneficiary-quarter) and improvements in all 4 quality indicators. In instrumental variable models, the MSSP was not associated with spending (change, $5 [CI, −$51 to $62] per beneficiary-quarter) or quality. In falsification tests, the MSSP was associated with hip fracture in the adjusted model (−0.24 hospitalizations for hip fracture [CI, −0.32 to −0.16 hospitalizations] per 1000 beneficiary-quarters) but not in the instrumental variable model (0.05 hospitalizations [CI, −0.10 to 0.20 hospitalizations] per 1000 beneficiary-quarters). Compositional changes were driven by high-cost clinicians exiting ACOs: High-cost clinicians (99th percentile) had a 30.4% chance of exiting the MSSP, compared with a 13.8% chance among median-cost clinicians (50th percentile).

Limitation:
The study used an observational design and administrative data.

Conclusion:
After adjustment for clinicians’ nonrandom exit, the MSSP was not associated with improvements in spending or quality. Selection effects — including exit of high-cost clinicians — may drive estimates of savings in the MSSP.

Primary Funding Source:
Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and National Institute on Aging.

In addition, here is an article from The Incidental Economist of June 17th on the same subject:

The Incidental Economist
June 17, 2019
Spending Reductions in the Medicare Shared Savings Program: Selection or Savings?
By J. Michael McWilliams, MD, PhD, Alan M. Zaslavsky, PhD, Bruce E. Landon, MD, MBA, and Michael E. Chernew, PhD.

Prior studies suggest that accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the MSSP have achieved modest, growing savings. In a recent study in Annals of Internal Medicine, Markovitz et al. conclude that savings from the MSSP are illusory, an artifact of risk selection behaviors by ACOs such as “pruning” primary care physicians (PCPs) with high-cost patients. Their conclusions appear to contradict previous findings that characteristics of ACO patients changed minimally over time relative to local control groups.

Conclusion

Monitoring ACOs will be essential, particularly as incentives for selection are strengthened as regional spending rates become increasingly important in determining benchmarks. Although there has likely been some gaming, the evidence to date — including the study by Markovitz et al. — provides no clear evidence of a costly problem and suggests that ACOs have achieved very small, but real, savings. Causal inference is hard but necessary to inform policy. When conclusions differ, opportunities arise to understand methodological differences and to clarify their implications for policy.

And finally, Don McCanne’s comment:

This important study in the highly reputable Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that accountable care organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) did not show any improvement in spending or quality when adjustments were made for selection effects, especially the non-random exit of high-cost clinicians (“I’m worth the extra money, and if you’re gonna cut my fees, I’m outta here.”)

The conclusions were immediately challenged by others in the policy community who have previously published studies indicating that “ACOs have achieved very small, but real, savings,” albeit admitting that “there has likely been some gaming.” And the savings were, indeed, very small. Others have suggested that the very small savings did not take into consideration the significant increase in provider administrative costs for technological equipment and personnel to run the ACOs, and certainly did not consider other unintended consequences such as the tragic increase in physician burnout.

Another problem with the infatuation for ACOs is that politicians and the policy community are insisting that we continue with this experiment in spite of the disappointing results to date. That simply postpones the adoption of truly effective policies, such as those in a single payer Medicare for All program, that would actually improve quality while greatly reducing administrative waste. The tragedy is that this also perpetuates uninsurance, underinsurance, and personal financial hardship from medical bills.

People are suffering and dying while the policy community continues to diddle with ACOs and other injudicious policy inventions. Enough! It’s long past time to reduce suffering and save lives! Single Payer Medicare for All!

(Yes, I’m angry, but even more I’m terribly anguished over the health care injustices that we continue to tolerate through our collective inaction.)

See, we can’t get away from Medicare for All after all.

 

Opinion | Universal Health Care Might Cost You Less Than You Think – The New York Times

Today’s New York Times Opinion piece on universal health care is a timely one, given the attempts by the medical-industrial complex and their allies to derail any move towards health care for all. It is even more important now that the 2020 Democratic primary campaign is gaining momentum.

How to Negotiate Down Your Hospital Bills – The Atlantic

Negotiate hospital bills? Why not negotiate drug costs, insurance premiums, co-pays, deductables, etc.?

Instead of playing this game, why not Improved Medicare for All. This way, no one will get sick paying for health care that is too damn expensive.

Read on.

Doctors’ bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings.

Source: How to Negotiate Down Your Hospital Bills – The Atlantic