Democrats align around a health policy platform

Abstract Word Cloud For Health Policy With Related Tags And Terms ...


Promising that “we are going to at last build the health care system the American people have always deserved”, a joint task force of health policy advisors from the Biden and Sanders campaigns this week released a unified set of proposals that will serve as part of the former Vice President’s campaign platform for the November election.

While the document does not include Sanders’ signature “Medicare for All” proposal, it does support a government-run public insurance option that would be available to all Americans, at income-adjusted, subsidized rates—including free coverage for those with low incomes. It also promises to expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and to extend Medicare eligibility to those age 60 and above.

For those who lose their health coverage due to the COVID pandemic, the unity document endorses having the government pick up the tab for COBRA benefits and shifting enrollees into premium-free coverage on the Obamacare exchanges when their COBRA eligibility expires.

It also promises greater investment in public health resources, including increased funding for the CDC, and funding to recruit 100,000 contact tracers nationwide.

Other key components of the proposal include eliminating “surprise billing”, reducing drug costs, addressing racial and gender-based health inequities, and bolstering investment in scientific research.

This week’s document represents an important step in unifying the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party around key health policy principles. Should Biden win in November, and if Democrats gain control of the Senate, we’d expect quick action on many of these proposals.

Clearly the most difficult would be the public option and Medicare expansion, which would require lengthy negotiation with various industry groups to garner sufficient political support. Similar to the 2009 process that led to the Affordable Care Act, we would likely see a year’s worth of political horse-trading, leading to passage of some compromise legislation before the midterm elections in 2022.

All of that in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and likely prolonged economic downturn—both of which will probably allow for the passage of more far-reaching legislation than might otherwise be possible.



Supreme Court says employers may opt out of Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate over religious, moral objections–alert-national&wpmk=1

Supreme Court appears divided on Trump plan to limit contraception ...

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration may allow employers and universities to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirement to provide contraceptive care because of religious or moral objections.

The decision seems to greatly expand an exception approved by the Obama administration, and the government estimates that it could mean that 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to cost-free birth control.

“We hold that the [administration] had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The decision sent the case back to a lower court and instructed it to dissolve a nationwide injunction that had kept the exception from being implemented.

Liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer agreed with the court conservatives’ decision to send the case back to lower courts, but they did not join the majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

At issue is the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to expand the types of organizations that could opt out of providing cost-free access to birth control and the extent to which the government should create exemptions to the law for religious groups and nonreligious employers with moral and religious objections.

The Obama administration had narrower exceptions for churches and other houses of worship, and it created a system of “accommodations,” or workarounds, for religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities. Those accommodations would provide the contraceptive care but avoid having the objecting organizations directly cover the cost.

Under the Trump administration rules, the employers able to opt out include essentially all nongovernmental workplaces, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. And the employer has the choice of whether to permit the workaround.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey initially challenged the rules, noting that when women lose coverage from their employers, they seek state-funded programs and services. Last summer, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit blocked the rules from taking effect nationwide. The court said the administration probably lacked authority to issue such broad exemptions and did not comply with requirements to provide notice and allow public comment on the rules.

In addition to the Trump administration, a charity called Little Sisters of the Poor defended the rules. The order of nuns, which runs homes for the elderly and employs about 2,700 people, points out that the government provided exemptions from the beginning for religious organizations such as churches. They say the accommodation provision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that says the government must have a compelling reason for programs that substantially burden religious beliefs.

In 2014, the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruled that certain closely held businesses do not have to offer birth control coverage that conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs. But the court did not take a position on the accommodation provision, which requires objecting organizations to notify the government.

Two years later, a shorthanded court of eight justices declined to rule on the merits of another challenge to the contraceptive-coverage requirement and sent the case back to the lower courts. The unusual, unsigned decision was viewed as a punt by a court then equally divided along ideological lines.





Oklahoma votes to expand Medicaid

Oklahoma voters narrowly approve Medicaid expansion | News Break

Oklahoma voters approved a state question to expand Medicaid to more low-income residents, according to The Oklahoman.

The June 30 vote makes Oklahoma the first state to amend its constitution to expand Medicaid. Adding Medicaid expansion to Oklahoma’s constitution effectively limits the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor from rolling back the measure.

The vote narrowly passed, with most of Oklahoma’s counties opposing the expansion. Just seven of the state’s 77 counties, including more populated ones such as Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties, voted in favor.

Oklahoma has until July 1, 2021, to expand Medicaid under the ACA. The expansion is expected to affect about 200,000 Oklahomans and cost about $164 million annually. The cost was a sticking point for Gov. Kevin Stitt, as the state may face a $1 billion shortfall in 2022. The Oklahoma Hospital Association supports the expansion.



Short-term ‘junk’ plans widely discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, House probe finds

U.S. Rep. Castor's Statement Following a Federal Judge's Ruling on ...

Dive Brief:

  • A yearlong probe by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce into bare-bones insurance plans encouraged by the Trump administration found widespread discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, even as a growing number are enrolled.
  • Top congressional Democrats investigated eight insurers selling short-term, limited duration plans, finding they all denied medical care claims if they found a consumer had a pre-existing condition. Some refused to pay for medical claims for no discernable reason, processing them only after consumers sued or complained to state regulators. Most rescinded coverage if they determined a member had a pre-existing condition or developed one later.
  • An HHS spokesperson defended the coverage as an affordable option to pricier Affordable Care Act plans, telling Healthcare Dive, “We’ve been abundantly clear that these plans aren’t for everyone.” America’s Health Insurance Plans made similar points, with spokesperson David Allen noting: “For Americans with pre-existing conditions, they may not be protected at all.”


Dive Insight:

The investigation looked at 14 companies that sell or market the plans, including eight insurers such as market giants Anthem and UnitedHealth Group, and six brokers.

It found insurers frequently turned down consumers with pre-existing conditions and discriminated against women, turning down applicants who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant and charging women more than men for the same coverage.

The plans had significant coverage limitations. Some excluded routine care like basic preventive visits and pelvic exams. Some plans had hard coverage cutoffs that left consumers with massive medical bills.

In one case, a consumer was billed a whopping $280,000 and lost coverage after being treated for an infection. The insurer said the patient previously had gotten an ultrasound that was “suspicious for deep venous thrombosis.”

AHIP spokesman Allen said it is not surprising given the plans are not intended to replace comprehensive coverage.

“They often do not cover the care and treatments that patients need throughout the year — preventive care, prescription drugs, mental health care or treatments for chronic health conditions — or if they do, they may limit or cap the benefits,” he acknowledged.

On average, short-term plans spend less than half of premium dollars collected from consumers on medical care: only 48%, the investigation found. That’s in stark contrast to plans in the ACA’s individual market, which are required to shell out at least 80% of all premium dollars on claims and benefits.

Short-term insurance represents a significant and growing share of the individual healthcare market. Roughly 3 million consumers bought the plans in 2019, a 27% growth from 2018, the investigation launched in March last year found.

The growth came after the Trump administration, in a controversial move, extended the maximum duration of the plans. The skimpy coverage, which isn’t required to cover the 10 essential benefits under the ACA, was originally designed as cheap safety net coverage for three months.

But in August 2018, HHS expanded the plans to 12 months, with a three year renewal period, and opened them up to all consumers, not just for those who can’t afford other coverage.

ACA supporters and patient advocates blasted the move, which sparked an ongoing legal challenge from safety net providers. Reports of consumers purchasing the coverage, believing it was comprehensive, then being shocked by balance bills prompted the House investigation.

The report also found brokers are paid up to 10 times more compensation for peddling short-term plans than ACA-compliant coverage. The average commission rate for short-term plans compared to ACA plans was 23% versus 2%, respectively.

Currently, 24 states ban or restrict the sale of short-term plans. Some states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, prohibit their sale entirely, while others like Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico and Rhode Island have such strict regulations that no plans are sold.

Democratic leaders unveiled a bill on Wednesday to bolster the ACA and rescind the administration’s expansion of the plans and expand subsidies, allowing more people to qualify for coverage.

The effort has zero chance of moving this year with Republicans in control of the Senate, but both it and the probe are likely to play into the looming 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

“The heavy-handed tactics uncovered in this investigation demonstrate why Congress must reverse the Trump Administration’s expansion of these junk plans,” E&C Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wrote in a joint statement. “It also shows how dangerous a post-ACA world would be if Republican Attorneys General and the Trump Administration are successful in striking down the law and its protections.”

That lawsuit, led by 18 red states, argues the ACA, which expanded insurance to some 20 million people, is unconstitutional because a tax bill passed in 2017 zeroed out the penalty for its individual mandate. It’s currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump and his health officials have repeatedly promised people with pre-existing conditions will be protected if the ACA is struck down, but neither the administration nor Republicans in Congress have said specifically how.






As Americans lose job-based coverage, ACA marketplace sets record with near 500K signups

Dive Brief:

  • Millions of individuals have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, allowing them to enroll in Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage via due to their special circumstances. CMS said this week that this special enrollment coverage due to job loss specifically has reached a record, with about 487,000 consumers gaining coverage, a 46% increase compared with the same time last year.
  • April saw the biggest jump in enrollment following job loss, an increase of 139% compared to April of last year.
  • Due to a number of factors, CMS said it “remains unclear how many people will eventually look to Exchanges using to replace job-based coverage.”

Dive Insight:

The pandemic has battered the economy, causing historic levels of unemployment. For many Americans, healthcare coverage is tethered to their jobs. As such, the pandemic is not only a threat to Americans’ health but their ability to pay for the care they need, sick with COVID-19 or not.

As many as 27 million Americans may have lost job-based coverage between March and May of this year, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Of the newly uninsured, about half (12.7 million) would be eligible for Medicaid coverage, according to Kaiser’s estimates. There are a few options for workers out of a job and insurance. They can opt to extend their coverage through COBRA, enroll in coverage through the exchanges, or check to see if they qualify for Medicaid.

This week, CMS attempted to quantify just how many out-of-work Americans were turning to the exchanges.

About 500,000 out-of-work consumers enrolled in coverage so far this year. However, there are other life events that qualify a consumer to shop for coverage during a special enrollment period. Overall, special enrollment period sign-ups garnered more than 890,000 enrollees, dwarfing other periods. 

If the trend continues, it may fuel a significant shift in health insurance. For years, a majority have received commercial coverage through work. Even health insurers recognize disruption is on the horizon.

Many of the nation’s largest insurers are bracing for a shift from their commercial book of business to covering more Medicaid enrollees through their contracts with states. Earlier this year, Molina, Centene and Anthem all said they expect upticks in their Medicaid membership and exchange products.

Molina executives said in April they already saw 30,000 more Medicaid members from the prior-year period.





ACA enrollment up 46%

Obamacare Coverage Spikes After Covid-Related Job Losses

The number of people who lost jobs and related health coverage and then signed up for Affordable Care Act health plans on the federal website was up 46% this year compared with 2019, representing an increase of 154,000 people, the federal government said in a new report.

The bottom line: The government said the rush of people going to was tied to “job losses due to COVID-19,” Bob writes.

Yes, but: Medicaid enrollment due to coronavirus-related job losses appears to be growing even faster than enrollment in ACA plans, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

Go deeper: Medicaid will be a coronavirus lifeline





Coronavirus Dashboard

Coronavirus dashboard: Catch up fast - Axios


  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 9,635,935 — Total deaths: 489,922 — Total recoveries — 4,861,715 — Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m ET: 2,422,312 — Total deaths: 124,415 — Total recoveries: 663,562 — Total tested: 29,207,820 — Map.
  3. Public health: America’s workers still aren’t protected from the coronavirus — Gilead says coronavirus drug should likely cost no more than $2,800.
  4. White House: Trump administration asks Supreme Court to overturn ACA during pandemic.
  5. Sports: Universities cut sports teams, as they struggle with coronavirus fallout.





Credit downgrades aren’t attributable to COVID-19 but cash flow will be a challenge

Just How Bad Is My Bad Credit Score? |

The coronavirus is mainly affecting the credit outlook for the rest of the year and beyond as hospitals adapt to new financial realities.

While the COVID-19 coronavirus is likely to cause cash flow and liquidity issues for hospitals through the end of the year and into 2021, the credit outlook for the healthcare industry isn’t as dire as some had feared. While there have been some downgrades this year, most of those are attributable to healthcare financial performance at the end of 2019.

At a virtual session of the Healthcare Financial Management Association on Wednesday, Lisa Goldstein, associate managing director at Moody’s Investors Service, said the agency is taking a measured approach to issuing credit ratings and will “triage” these ratings based on factors such as liquidity and cash flow.

“Changes are happening daily, and sometimes hourly with funding coming from the federal government,” said Goldstein, “so we’re taking a very measured approach.”

Healthcare is among the most volatile industries being affected by the coronavirus due to the fact that it operates like a business, with a general lack of government support to pay off debt.

Credit downgrades are on the rise, but there’s historical precedent at play. Looking at data beginning with the 2008 financial crisis, there were consistently more downgrades than upgrades in the healthcare industry, owing to its inherent volatility. It was and has generally been subject to public policy and competitive forces. In any given year, downgrades exceed upgrades.

After passage of the Affordable Care Act, however, the number of uninsured Americans hit an all-time low. Hospitals grew in occupancy and revenues improved. The situation started to worsen once more when it became clear that there was a national nursing shortage, as well as top-line revenue pressure from government and commercial payers lowering their rates, but credit downgrades didn’t truly explode until this year. There have been 24 downgrades so far this year, already exceeding the 13 downgrades in all of 2019.

The rub is that it’s not the coronavirus’s fault.

“Most downgrades were in the first quarter of the year,” said Goldstein. “We did have a lot of downgrades in March, which is when the pandemic really started – when it became a pandemic – but even though there were 11 downgrades in March, it was based on what we’d seen through the end of 2019. There were problems that were appearing that had nothing to do with the pandemic.”

Basic fundamental operating challenges were becoming more pronounced during that time. A decline in inpatient cases, a rapid rise in observation stays, a decline in outpatient cases to competing clinics and health centers, and staffing and productivity challenges all contributed to material increases in debt.

COVID-19’s effects on hospital credit ratings are in the outlook for the rest of the year and beyond. Interestingly, in March, Moody’s changed its outlook from negative to stable.

“We haven’t seen anything like this,” said Goldstein. “The industry has been through shocks, but something this long in duration has been something we think will have an impact on financial performance going forward.”

Moody’s anticipates cash flow will remain low into 2021, mostly from the suspension of elective surgeries, rising staffing expenses and uncertainty around securing enough personal protective equipment. Liquidity is still a concern, but is more of a side issue due to Medicare funding providing a Band-Aid of sorts. The CARES act will help to fill some of that gap, but not all of it, said Goldstein.

She added that the $175 billion in stimulus funding is favorable, but modestly so, since it is estimated to cover only about two months’ worth of spending. The good news is that the opportunity to apply for grant money, which doesn’t have to be repaid, can help to fill some of the gap.

Some hospital leaders are concerned that if they violate covenants – also known as a technical default – their credit outlook will be downgraded. Goldstein sought to assuage those concerns.

“Debt service covenants are expected to rise, but an expected covenant breach or violation won’t have an impact on credit quality because it’s driven by an unusual event happening,” she said. “It doesn’t speak to your fundamental history as an operating entity.”



White House set to ask Supreme Court this week to overturn ACA: 4 things to know

New rules for Supreme Court justices as they plan their first-ever ...

The White House is expected to file legal briefs with the Supreme Court this week that will ask the justices to end the ACA, according to The New York Times

Four things to know:

1. The filings are in relation to Texas v. United States, the latest legal challenge to the ACA. Arguments around the case center on whether the ACA’s individual mandate was rendered unconstitutional when the penalty associated with it was erased by the 2017 tax law. Whether that decision invalidates the entire law or only certain parts of it is at question.

2. The White House is set to ask the Supreme Court June 25 to invalidate the law. The filings come at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and their employer-based health coverage.

3. Republicans have said they want to “repeal and replace” the ACA, but there is no agreed upon alternative, according to The New York Times. Party strategists told the publication that Republicans will be in a tricky spot if they try to overturn the ACA ahead of the November elections and amid a pandemic. 

4. In addition to the filings, Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to reveal a bill this week that would boost the ACA. Proposals include more subsidies for healthcare premiums, expanding Medicaid coverage for uninsured pregnant women and offering states incentives to expand Medicaid.

Read the full report here



In blow to hospitals, judge rules for HHS in price transparency case

UPDATE: June 24, 2020: The American Hospital Association said it will appeal Tuesday’s ruling  that upholds the Trump administration’s mandate to force hospitals to disclose negotiated rates with insurers. The hospital lobby said it was disappointed in the ruling and will seek expedited review. AHA said the mandate “imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care.”

If AHA seeks to have the rule stayed pending an appellate ruling, the decision on such a request “is likely to be almost as significant as this ruling is, since absent a stay, the rule will likely go into effect before the appellate court rules,” James Burns, a law partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive.

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge ruled against the American Hospital Association on Tuesday in its lawsuit attempting to block an HHS rule pushing for price transparency. The judge ruled in favor of the department, which requires hospitals to reveal private, negotiated rates with insurers beginning Jan. 1.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, an appointee of President Donald Trump, was swayed neither by AHA’s argument that forcing hospitals to publicly disclose rates violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to reveal proprietary information nor by the claim that it would chill negotiations between providers and payers. The judge characterized the First Amendment argument as “half-hearted.”
  • Nichols seem convinced that the requirement will empower patients, noting in Tuesday’s summary judgment in favor of the administration that “all of the information required to be published by the Final Rule can allow patients to make pricing comparisons between hospitals.”

Dive Insight:

The ruling is a blow for hospitals, which have been adamantly opposed to disclosing their privately negotiated rates since HHS first unveiled its proposal in July 2019. AHA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether it planned to appeal.

The legal debate hinges on the definition of “standard charges”, which is mentioned in the Affordable Care Act, though it was left largely undefined in the text. Trump issued an executive order last year that included negotiated rates as part of that definition.

Cynthia Fisher, founder of, which filed an amicus brief in support of HHS, told Healthcare Dive on Tuesday the ruling could make shopping for health services more like buying groceries or retail.

“For the first time we will be able to know prices before we get care,” she said. “This court ruling rejects every claim to keep the secret hidden prices from consumers until after we get care.”