Healthcare Reform: The Perfect or Politically Possible?

Healthcare Reform: The Perfect or Politically Possible?

Image result for healthcare cost tipping point

Health economist William Hsiao PhD lays out two stark choices on healthcare reform facing Americans:

  • should health insurance continue being treated as a market-driven commercial product, or should it be changed to a government-regulated social good?
  • if Americans opt for change, should they alter the system quickly in a few years or slowly over decades?

In the February issue of Foreign Affairs, Professor Hsiao makes the case the healthcare market has failed – “Americans pay more and get less.” But he questions whether Americans currently have enough political will to undertake more than small incremental steps toward transforming it.

He acknowledges that changing to a single-payer approach would radically cut administrative costs, extend coverage to all, strengthen fraud control, and spread actuarial risk more evenly. He also acknowledges that doing so would reduce the overall national spending on healthcare and would relieve households from the financial threats of escalating premiums and illness.

But, he writes, the single-payer approach would encounter both public fear of major change as well as resistance from powerful interest groups like the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical firms. “Although Americans have begun to take a more favorable view of single-payer systems in recent years, it’s far from clear that the idea has enough popular support to clear such hurdles.”

He cites Canada and Taiwan as examples of rapid comprehensive reform undertaken in 1968 and 1995, respectively. He notes that these two systems have kept annual per-capita spending at $4,974 in Canada and $1,430 in Taiwan, compared with over $10,000 annually for Americans. And he notes that both countries enjoy longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the U.S.

But he questions whether such a radical approach is politically possible in the U.S. His admonitions should not be ignored, since he is a renowned international expert on healthcare financing and social insurance, with long-standing tenure at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. Also, he is no stranger to healthcare politics as the prime architect of Medicare’s resource-based relative-value pricing schema.

The German Alternative

Professor Hsiao suggests another model – Germany.

Germany’s first “sickness funds” were created in 1883 by Chancellor von Bismarck (see my YouTube video, “Brief History of U.S. Healthcare”).  Then, after World War I, the Reichstag mandated universal coverage for all citizens. In the 1990s, chaotic coverage packages were standardized by law. Since then, the hybrid regulated market consolidated down to just 115 insurers currently, all now using required uniform claims procedures. Administrative costs are low, drug costs are controlled, per-capital spending is $5,728, and life expectancy and infant mortality are better than in the U.S.

Professor Hsiao argues that an incremental approach like Germany’s is more politically feasible in the U.S.  For example, implementing a uniform system of records and payments could streamline claims processing and improve control of duplication and fraud. He favors allowing a monopsony of insurers to collectively bargain on drug prices. Measures like these would predictably save $200 to $300 billion dollars annually, a comparatively small but worthwhile step.

Meanwhile, he favors state-level or federal-level risk pools and regional health budgets to cover the uninsured and underinsured.  These measures would require modest tax increases along the way, but would sidestep the politically problematic issue of abolishing private health insurance.

Comment

Professor Hsiao astutely frames the question of healthcare reform as a debate over “the perfect and the good.” He implies that doing nothing is not an option. But he also astutely notes that the clash between public sentiment and the vested interests will drive the political power dynamic. Will Americans’ escalating pocketbook costs prevail over their fear of change and their tolerance for non-costworthy spending in the current system?

This blog has predicted that rising walletbook pain will push Americans to their political tipping point.  Time will tell.

 

Healthcare spending is higher over 5 years, mostly due to a rise in prices, says new report

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139806?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldNMllXTmpNVEJpTVRNMSIsInQiOiI1MVlQdys0d2FHbVZESVVjMDNFS2tnQVNJSlNjS2xsT1BCXC9FdGFZbWI2TDZQcnBJZHZIU2p4Qm9GNEw1K1ZsM1M5SVVPYU51OGxxOVJNRndtTlY1UXFkaFNueDVXbTlWbHRmSHF2YWhhVVdZdkthc0FzOHBIWFN3ZTNXdHVoVTkifQ%3D%3D

Between 2014 and 2018, per-person yearly spending, for those with employer-sponsored insurance, climbed 18.4%.

A new report confirms concerns about healthcare costs, as it shows per-person spending is increasing faster than per-capita gross domestic product.

Between 2014 and 2018, per-person yearly spending, for those with employer-sponsored insurance, climbed  from $4,987 to $5,892, an 18.4% increase, according to the 2018 Health Care Cost and Utilization Report released Thursday.  The average annual rate of 4.3% outpaced growth in per-capita GDP, which increased at an average 3.4% over the same period.

There’s an exception from 2017 to 2018, when per-capita GDP grew slightly faster than healthcare spending per person.

The $5,892 total includes amounts paid for medical and pharmacy claims but does not subtract manufacturer rebates for prescription drugs.

Healthcare spending grew 4.4% in 2018, slightly above growth in 2017 of 4.2%, and the third consecutive year of growth above 4%.

After adjusting for inflation, spending rose by $610 per person between
2014 and 2018.

The cost estimates are consistent with National Health Expenditure data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the report said.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Higher prices for medical services were responsible for about three-quarters, 74%, of the spending increase above inflation. These increases were across all categories of outpatient and professional services.

Average prices grew 2.6% in 2018. While that is the lowest rate of growth over the period, consistent year-over-year increases mean that prices were 15% higher in 2018 than 2014.

The increase for outpatient visits and procedures was $87 in 2018, the largest annual increase between 2014 and 2018.

Average out-of-pocket price for ER visits increased more sharply than other subcategories of outpatient visits, though all saw an increase in the average amount for which patients were responsible

Professional service spending per person rose $86 in 2018, reflecting an acceleration in spending growth consistent with previous years’ trends, according to the report.

Inpatient services and prescription drugs also saw an increase in spending per person.

Inpatient admissions increased $24 in 2018, a smaller annual increase than in 2016 or 2017, but above the rise in 2015.

Per-person spending on prescription drugs rose $50, similar to increases in 2016 and 2017, but smaller than the rise in 2015. The total does not reflect manufacturer rebates.

On average, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance spent
$155 out-of-pocket on prescription drugs in 2018.

Prices rose, as did utilization, which grew 1.8% from 2017 to 2018, the fastest pace during the five-year period. And because of the higher price levels, the effect of the increase in utilization in 2018 on total spending was higher than it would have been in 2014.

Higher utilization may be the result of a population that got slightly older between 2014 and 2018. The population also became slightly more female.

People with job-based insurance saw their out-of-pocket costs rise by an average of 14.5%, or $114, between 2014 and 2018.

THE LARGER TREND

As most Americans have job-based health insurance, this data is critical for understanding overall health costs in the United States, the report said.

An estimated 49% of the U.S. population, about 160 million people, had employer-based health insurance in 2018, based on Census data.

The report combined data from large insurers, using 4,000 distinct
age/gender/geography combinations. It contains previously unreported information drawn from 2.5 billion insurance claims.

Claims data is the most comprehensive source of real-world evidence available to researchers as databases collect information on millions of doctors’ visits, healthcare procedures, prescriptions, and payments by insurers and patients, giving researchers large sample sizes, the report said.

 

Californians increasingly concerned about access to mental healthcare and rising cost of care

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139807?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldNMllXTmpNVEJpTVRNMSIsInQiOiI1MVlQdys0d2FHbVZESVVjMDNFS2tnQVNJSlNjS2xsT1BCXC9FdGFZbWI2TDZQcnBJZHZIU2p4Qm9GNEw1K1ZsM1M5SVVPYU51OGxxOVJNRndtTlY1UXFkaFNueDVXbTlWbHRmSHF2YWhhVVdZdkthc0FzOHBIWFN3ZTNXdHVoVTkifQ%3D%3D

For the second year in a row, residents say making sure people with mental health problems can get treatment is their top healthcare priority.

Mental healthcare access remains a top priority for nine in 10 Californians, while the rising cost of physical and mental healthcare is causing increasing numbers of Californians to struggle to pay for prescription drugs, medical bills, and healthcare premiums, finds a new poll from the California Health Care Foundation.

The poll, Health Care Priorities and Experiences of California Residents, offers detailed insight into Californians’ views on a range of critical health issues, including healthcare affordability and access, perceptions on homelessness, the healthcare workforce, Medi-Cal, and the experiences of the uninsured. Results from the survey are also compared to a 2019 CHCF poll on the same topics to identify emerging trends.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

For the second year in a row, California residents say making sure people with mental health problems can get treatment is their top healthcare priority. Nine in 10 said this was extremely or very important, and 52% said it was “extremely” important — topping all other health issues.

More than one in four Californians (27%) say that they or a family member received treatment for a mental health condition in the past 12 months; 7% say they or a family member received treatment for an alcohol or drug use problem.

Among those with insurance who tried to make an appointment for mental healthcare in the past 12 months, almost half (48%) found it very or somewhat difficult to find a provider who took their insurance. More than half (52%) of those who tried to make an appointment (with or without insurance) believe they waited longer than was reasonable to get one.

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) respondents are in favor of increasing the number of mental healthcare providers in parts of the state where providers are in short supply. And 89% favor enforcing rules requiring health insurance companies to provide mental healthcare at the same level as physical health care.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Meanwhile, a little more than half of Californians (51%) have skipped or postponed physical or mental healthcare due to cost — up from 44% last year. Of those who took this step, 42% said it made their condition worse.

Compared to last year’s survey, Californians are more worried about paying for unexpected medical bills (63% last year; 69% today), out-of-pocket healthcare costs (55% vs. 66%), prescription drugs (42% vs. 50%), and health insurance premiums (39% vs. 44%).

Nearly a quarter of residents said they or someone in their family had problems paying, or an inability to pay medical bills in the past 12 months, while almost one-third of those with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level report having problems paying their medical bills, compared to 19% of those with higher incomes. Uninsured adults report trouble paying their medical bills (45%) at twice the rate of those with employer-sponsored health insurance (20%).

More than eight in 10 (82%) respondents say it is important to lower the price of prescription drugs — up from 75% last year.

When compared to other issues facing the state, Californians rank healthcare affordability as their top priority among a range of public challenges presented in the poll — with 84% of respondents citing it as extremely or very important.

Improving public education received the same response (84%), closely followed by addressing homelessness (83%), attracting and retaining businesses and jobs (78%), and making housing more affordable (76%). Support for making healthcare more affordable cut across party identification, race, and income lines.

THE LARGER TREND

Ninety-six percent of employers believe improving mental health in the workplace is good for their business, but only 65% indicate their company provides adequate mental health services, according to findings from a December survey released by national nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies.

Generally, there’s awareness that an employee’s physical health has an impact on absenteeism and productivity. But mental health, formerly a taboo subject, is garnering increasing recognition as well, and for the same reasons.

While almost all employers believe improving mental health in the workplace is good for their business, 17% of employers acknowledge not offering any resources at all. The most common mental health resources offered by employers are stress management classes (39%) and mental health awareness training (39%).
 

How runaway healthcare costs are a threat to older adults — and what to do about it

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139803?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTW1JMFptSmhNR1F4WVRNeSIsInQiOiJOK3RWYTlrV0djQ1JEYWcyRlhqZDlHVGF2ejRRWXE3UDdHaGpcL2R5bVwvMHlHOUgyY0V0d1wvUE8rK3pMRlFFSXJsZGEzTVwvRVZRVHh3OGdLT0pOWG5LVDZaNFNadTVmYVFWdkFTamFcL2JhZUpPd3lia1hySCtzVlhROXpmWTh1Zm1mIn0%3D

Authors call for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, which is currently prohibited by law.

Empowering Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, accelerating the adoption of value-based care, using philanthropy as a catalyst for reform and expanding senior-specific models of care are among recommendations for reducing healthcare costs published in a new special report and supplement to the Winter 2019-20 edition of Generations, the journal of the American Society of Aging.

The report, “Older Adults and America’s Healthcare Cost Crisis,” includes a dozen articles by experts and leaders from healthcare, business, academia and philanthropy.

The authors examine the major drivers of the high cost of healthcare and its impact on patients, then offer solutions that can reduce costs and potentially improve the quality of care for older adults and society at large.

Topics include the employer’s role in reining in healthcare prices; the high cost of prescription drugs; investing in the social determinants of health; the value of home-based acute care; the need for oral health programs for older adults; value-based payment reform; and the geriatric emergency care movement.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

In the report’s lead article, West Health President and CEO Shelley Lyford and Timothy Lash, chief strategy officer of West Health and president of the West Health Policy Center, called for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, which is currently prohibited by law.

They write it “would be a game-changing lever that could force prescription drug manufacturers to bring down prices and lower costs for older Americans.” They also said it’s essential to quickly move from unfettered fee-for-service to value-based payment models, and that more transparency on price and quality is needed so consumers and other purchasers can make more informed decisions about care.

Among the other recommendations are for employers to demand greater price accountability from hospitals and health plans, and to take the lead in adopting value-based payment models.

Authors also call for establishing senior-specific models of care, including geriatric emergency departments, which may improve health outcomes and reduce hospital admissions, and senior dental centers, which can address what they call an epidemic of oral health problems among older adults.

They also support widespread use of home-based acute care, which they say increases the value of healthcare.

THE LARGER TREND

As spiraling U.S. healthcare costs dominate policy agendas at the state and federal level, older adults — the largest group of consumers of healthcare services — have a particularly high stake in solving the crisis. According to a 2019 West Health-Gallup poll, seniors withdrew an estimated $22 billion from long-term savings in the past year to pay for healthcare and an estimated 7.5 million were unable to pay for a prescribed medicine.