I’ve lived the difference between US and UK health care. Here’s what I learned

https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/07/opinions/single-payer-healthcare-beers/index.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%20Weekly%20Roundup:%20Healthcare%20Dive%2008-10-2019&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive%20Weekender

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Earlier this year, I shattered my elbow in a freak fall, requiring surgery, plates and screws. While I am a US citizen, several years ago I married an Englishman and became a UK resident, entitled to coverage on the British National Health Service. My NHS surgeon was able to schedule me in for the three-hour surgery less than two weeks after my fall, and my physical therapist saw me weekly after the bone was healed to work on my flexion and extension. Both surgery and rehab were free at the point of use, and the only paperwork I completed was my pre-operative release forms.

Compare that to another freak accident I had while living in Boston in my 20s. I spilled a large cup of hot tea on myself, suffered second degree scald burns, and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. In the pain and chaos of the ER admission, I accidentally put my primary insurance down as my secondary and vice versa. It took me the better part of six months to sort out the ensuing paperwork and billing confusion, and even with two policies, I still paid several hundred dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.
With debate raging in the US among Democrats about whether to push for a government health care system such as Medicare for All, there is no doubt in my mind that the NHS single-payer health care system is superior to the American system of private insurance.
As someone who suffers from chronic illness, is incredibly clumsy and accident-prone, and has two young children, I spend an inordinate amount of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. When my family is in our home in York, England, our health care is paid for principally through direct taxation, and we have zero out of pocket costs.
In contrast, when we are in the US, we are on my employer-based insurance plan. After years with one provider, rising costs pushed the premiums alone to above 10% of my gross salary for the family plan, and I recently opted to switch to a new provider, whose premiums are a more modest but still eye-watering 7% of my salary. I have had to switch our family doctor and specialists, with the attendant hassle of applying to have our medical records released and transferred to our new providers. In addition to my premiums, both plans include significant co-pays, although my new provider does not have a deductible.

In Britain, I am not entitled to the annual well patient and women’s health check-ups that Americans can now receive without a co-pay or deductible thanks to the Affordable Care Act. As an asthma sufferer, I do, however, have regular annual reviews of my condition. When one of my children becomes ill, I am usually able to receive same-day treatment in both countries, although in both cases this involves showing up early for the urgent care clinic.
The comparative ease and security of the NHS is why the system retains such high levels of support from the British public, despite frustrations with wait times and other aspects of service provision. A recent poll found that 77% of respondents felt that “the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it,” and nearly 90% agreed that that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, provide a comprehensive service available to everyone, and be primarily funded through taxation. Britons’ affection for their NHS was dramatically enacted in Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic opening ceremony extravaganza.
Yet, while I share my adopted countrymen’s support for the NHS, I can see almost no chance of America adopting a single-payer health care system of the kind described by Sens. Sanders and Warren any time soon. Sanders, Warren and other single-payer advocates not only face a strong and entrenched adversary in the American insurance industry, they also lack the broad public support for reform which characterized post-WWII Britain.
That broad public support for reform was crucial. Britain’s NHS system was very nearly defeated by opposing interests when it was introduced in the 1940s. It was initially opposed by the municipal and voluntary authorities, who controlled the 3,000 hospitals which Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan sought to bring under national administration, by the various Royal Colleges of surgeons and specialists, and by British Medical Association (BMA), the professional body representing the vast majority of the nation’s general practitioners, who stood to lose control of their private practices and become state employees.
At a meeting of doctors following the publication of Bevan’s proposals in January 1946, one physician claimed that “This Bill is strongly suggestive of the Hitlerite regime now being destroyed in Germany,” and another described the proposed nationalization of the hospitals as “the greatest seizure of property since Henry VIII confiscated the monasteries.” The BMA hostility persisted through rounds of negotiations lasting two years. Less than six months before the bill was set to come into effect on July 5, 1948, the BMA’s membership voted by a margin of 8 to 1 against the NHS, sparking serious fears within the government that GPs would refuse to come on board, effectively scuppering the NHS.
Bevan insisted that he would not cave but he did have to make several costly concessions to bring the doctors on board. First, he cleaved off the specialists (who were closely tied to the hospitals), by promising them that, if they signed on, they could continue to treat private patients in NHS-run hospitals in addition to their NHS patients, whom they would be paid to treat on a fee-for-service basis. Then, he offered the general practitioners a generous buyout to give up their stake in their private practices (effectively purchasing their patient lists), if they came on board. And finally, he promised them that the government would not be able to compel them to become fully salaried employees of the state without the passage of new legislation.
At the same time that Bevan offered the carrot of economic concessions, he also wielded the stick of public opinion against the doctors. Speaking in the House of Commons in February 1948, Bevan positioned single-payer healthcare as an issue of middle class survival, in language whose substance, if not its style, would not sound out of place in a 2020 Democratic primary debate: “Consider that social class which is called the “middle class.” Their entrance into the scheme, and their having a free doctor and a free hospital service, is emancipation for many of them. There is nothing that destroys the family budget of the professional worker more than heavy hospital bills and doctors’ bills.”
Bevan spoke for a public exceptionally united in support of an expanded state welfare policy as a result of the socially unifying experience of World War II. Fear of public backlash combined with economic incentives ultimately brought the medical establishment to heel.
Many were shocked when Bevan succeeded, but the BMA was arguably a less formidable threat to reform then than the American insurance industry is now. Insurance companies stand to be the biggest losers from a switch to single-payer health care, which seeks to achieve economies in large part through cutting out the profit-making middle man. As Elizabeth Warren noted in last Tuesday’s debate, US insurance companies reported $23 billion in profits last year. And the insurance lobby is determined to protect its position. That is why insurance companies are major donors in both state and federal election campaigns. The insurance industry has put massive resources into ensuring continued public and political opposition to the introduction of a single-payer system.
It’s possible that, if Americans were presented with an arguably cheaper and less bureaucratic health care system, they might decide that they liked it and were committed to doing everything they could to maintain it. But given the constellation of political forces in 21st century America, that just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Republicans ready to revive ACA repeal talks

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/republicans-ready-to-revive-aca-repeal-talks.html

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., promised to revive ACA repeal in Congress if Republicans can win back a majority in the House and reelect President Donald Trump in 2020, according to an interview on South Carolina radio show “The Morning Answer with Joey Hudson,” featured by The Hill

“This is what 2020 is about: If we can get the House back, and keep our majority in the Senate, and President Trump wins reelection, I can promise you, not only are we going to repeal Obamacare, we are going to do it in a smart way where South Carolina would be the biggest winner,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham, who failed to pass an ACA repeal plan in 2017, called “Medicare for All” and other Democratic presidential candidates’ healthcare plans “crazy.”  

“Medicare for All is $30 trillion, and it’s going to take private sector healthcare away from 180 million Americans,” he said. Instead, he proposed giving states the power to determine healthcare policy through block grants and other smaller reforms. This would allow states to test conservative healthcare policies against liberal ones, he said. 

“This election has got a common thing: Federalism versus socialism,” Mr. Graham said. “What I want to do is make sure the states get the chance to administer this money using conservative principles if you are in South Carolina, and if you want Medicare for All in California, knock yourself out.”

America’s mental health problem isn’t mass shootings

https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.2013.0085

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The U.S. has a gun violence problem and a mental health problem. But conflating the two won’t solve either.

The big picture: The average person suffering from a mental illness is no more prone to violence than anyone without a mental illness, and mental-health advocates say exaggerating a link between mass shootings and mental illness can be stigmatizing and harmful.

Between the lines: “A very small proportion of people with a mental illness are at increased risk of violent behavior if they are not treated,” 2 former CEOs of Mental Health America wrote in Health Affairs in 2013.

  • These are the people with the most severe mental illnesses — often those characterized by paranoia and delusions, the authors added. These people also may have a substance abuse problem or a “history of victimization.”

Yes, but: Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and “mental illness is a very strong causal factor in suicide,” Duke University’s Jeffrey Swanson said.

Even if Congress did decide to further limit people with mental illness’ access to guns, they’ll quickly run up against the mental health system’s broader shortcomings.

  • A patient must interact with the system to receive a mental health diagnosis. And one of the system’s biggest problems is that many people with mental illness can’t get the treatment they need.
  • Only 25% of active shooters included in an analysis released by the FBI last year had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, even though 62% had appeared to be struggling with some kind of mental health issue in the year before the attack.
  • “The act of somebody who goes out and massacres a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind,” Swanson said. “But that doesn’t mean that person has a mental illness.”

 

 

 

 

Trump to Sign Medicare Order as Part of Attack on Democrats’ Health-Care Message

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-administration-proposal-would-allow-prescription-drug-imports-from-canada-11564580906?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%20Weekly%20Roundup:%20Healthcare%20Dive%2008-03-2019&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive%20Weekender

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Administration moves ahead to bolster Medicare Advantage plans and authorize lower-cost drug imports from Canada, as it takes on Medicare for All.

President Trump is preparing to sign an executive order next week on Medicare and moving ahead with allowing some drug imports from Canada, part of the administration’s effort to engineer a response to Democratic proposals that candidates say would expand health coverage to all Americans.

The executive order would aim to strengthen Medicare for 44 million Americans and portray the president as defending it against Democrats who want to expand it nationwide under their Medicare for All strategy, a White House official said Wednesday.

The administration on Wednesday also said it would allow the imports of some drugs from Canada, backing an idea most Democratic candidates have also said they support. More executive orders, including one on drug prices, are possible, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Mr. Trump is taking a two-pronged approach to his 2020 campaign message on health care, attacking Medicare for All as socialism and rolling out a blitz of health-care initiatives intended to position him as the person who can drive down costs and protect health care.

The president is expected to contrast the Democrats’ plans with his in a speech set for Aug. 6. “He’s going to indict and impugn the idea of Medicare for All,” a White House official said of the speech. Senior White House aides and agency officials are holding meetings several times a week on health care plans, the official said.

Democratic challengers say Mr. Trump has endangered coverage by backing cuts to Medicare and a lawsuit that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone,” Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren said during the candidates’ debate Tuesday. “That’s what the Republicans are trying to do.”

This week, the administration proposed a rule that would compel hospitals to disclose discounted rates with insurers. The president signed an executive order to overhaul kidney-disease care, and the White House relaxed restrictions on pretax health savings accounts so the money can be used on treatment to prevent disease.

Mr. Trump is expected to sign the Medicare executive order next week at The Villages, a Florida retirement community with 120,000 residents that is majority Republican.

Mr. Trump may call for agency action to bolster Medicare Advantage plans, which private insurers offer under contract with Medicare and cover about 22 million people, according to two people familiar with the executive order. The president is likely to focus on curbing waste and abuse in Medicare that can add to the program’s cost. In addition, the order may aim to let Medicare Advantage plans offer a wider array of supplemental benefits. The administration has already taken steps in this direction by letting home health-care providers become partners in the Medicare Advantage contracts.

Mr. Trump also is expected to push for changes that could lower the price of patient visits to hospital outpatient clinics, two of the people said. Those visits can cost more than visits to clinics operated by doctors. “This is part of the president’s broader vision to put American patients first,” one person familiar with the executive order said.

A White House spokesman declined to confirm the details or comment on the executive order.

House Republicans and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have criticized the plans from Democrats, saying they would end Medicare Advantage and imperil the Medicare program, which covers 44 million Americans.

“Our administration wants to strengthen the program, protect the program, make sure it’s sustainable over the long term,” Seema Verma, administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Wednesday at a press event. “We need to work toward that instead of forcing so many more people onto the program.”

 

 

 

Democratic Debate Turns Ferocious Over Health Care

Candidates in the first night of this week’s Democratic presidential debates sparred over health care coverage.

It took only one question — the very first — in Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate to make it clear that the issue that united the party in last year’s congressional elections in many ways now divides it.

When Jake Tapper of CNN asked Senator Bernie Sanders whether his Medicare for All health care plan was “bad policy” and “political suicide,” it set off a half-hour brawl that drew in almost every one of the 10 candidates on the stage. Suddenly, members of the party that had been all about protecting and expanding health care coverage were leveling accusations before a national audience at some of their own — in particular, that they wanted to take it away.

“It used to be Republicans that wanted to repeal and replace,” Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana said in one of the more jolting statements on the subject. “Now many Democrats do as well.”

Those disagreements set a combative tone that continued for the next 90 minutes. The health care arguments underscored the powerful shift the Democratic Party is undergoing, and that was illustrated in a substantive debate that also included trade, race, reparations, border security and the war in Afghanistan.

In the end, it was a battle between aspiration and pragmatism, a crystallization of the struggle between the party’s left and moderate factions.

It is likely to repeat itself during Wednesday night’s debate, whose lineup includes former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris of California. He supports building on the Affordable Care Act by adding an option to buy into a public health plan. She released a proposal this week that would go further, eventually having everyone choose either Medicare or private plans that she said would be tightly regulated by the government.

Democrats know all too well that the issue of choice in health care is a potent one. When President Barack Obama’s promise that people who liked their health plans could keep them under the Affordable Care Act proved to be untrue, Republicans seized on the fallout so effectively that it then propelled them to majorities in both the House and Senate.

On Tuesday night, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio evoked those Republican attacks of years ago on the Affordable Care Act, saying the Sanders plan “will tell the union members that give away wages in order to get good health care that they will lose their health care because Washington is going to come in and tell them they have a better plan.”

Republicans watching the debate may well have been smiling; the infighting about taking away people’s ability to choose their health care plan and spending too much on a pipe-dream plan played into some of President Trump’s favorite talking points. Mr. Trump is focusing on health proposals that do not involve coverage — lowering drug prices, for example — as his administration sides with the plaintiffs in a court case seeking to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, putting millions of people’s coverage at risk.

It was easy to imagine House Democrats who campaigned on health care, helping their party retake control of the chamber, being aghast at the fact that not a single candidate mentioned the case.

Mr. Sanders’s plan would eliminate private health care coverage and set up a universal government-run health system that would provide free coverage for everyone, financed by taxes, including on the middle class. John Delaney, the former congressman from Maryland, repeatedly took swings at the Sanders plan, suggesting that it was reckless and too radical for the majority of voters and could deliver a second term to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Sanders held firm, looking ready to boil over at time — “I wrote the damn bill,” he fumed after Mr. Ryan questioned whether benefits in his plan would prove as comprehensive as he was promising. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the only other candidate in favor of a complete overhaul of the health insurance system that would include getting rid of private coverage, chimed in to back him up.

At one point she seemed to almost plead. “We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone,” she interjected. “That’s what the Republicans are trying to do.”

Mr. Delaney has been making a signature issue of his opposition to Medicare for all, instead holding up his own plan, which would automatically enroll every American under 65 in a new public health care plan or let them choose to receive a credit to buy private insurance instead. He repeatedly disparaged what he called “impossible promises.”

He was one of a number of candidates — including Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from Texas; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. — who sought to stake out a middle ground by portraying themselves as defenders of free choice with plans that would allow, but not force, people to join Medicare or a new government health plan, or public option. (Some candidates would require people to pay into those plans, while others would not.)

The debate moderators also pressed Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren on whether the middle class would have to help pay for a Sanders-style plan, which would provide a generous set of benefits — beyond what Medicare covers — to every American without charging them premiums or deductibles. One of the revenue options Mr. Sanders has suggested is a 4 percent tax on the income of families earning more than $29,000.

In defending his plan, Mr. Sanders repeatedly pointed out how many Americans are uninsured or underinsured, unable to pay high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs and thus unable to seek care.

Analysts often point out that the focus on raising taxes to pay for universal health care leaves out the fact that in exchange, personal health care costs would drop or disappear.

“A health reform plan might involve tax increases, but it’s important to quantify the savings in out-of-pocket health costs as well,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted during the debate. “Political attacks don’t play by the same rules.”

A Kaiser poll released Tuesday found that two-thirds of the public supports a public option, though most Republicans oppose it. The poll also found about half the public supports a Medicare for all plan, down from 56 percent in April. The vast majority of respondents with employer coverage — which more than 150 million Americans have — rated it as excellent or good.

In truth, Mr. Delaney’s own universal health care plan could also face political obstacles, not least because it, too, would cost a lot. He has proposed paying for it by, among other steps, letting the government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and requiring wealthy Americans to cover part of the cost of their health care.

Had Mr. Sanders not responded so forcefully to the attacks, it would have felt like piling on, though some who criticized his goals sounded more earnest than harsh.

“I think how we win an election is to bring everyone with us,” Ms. Klobuchar said, adding later in the debate that a public option would be “the easiest way to move forward quickly, and I want to get things done.”

 

 

Rising health insurance deductibles fuel middle-class anger and resentment

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-health-insurance-angry-patients-20190628-story.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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The IRS rolled out new rules yesterday to help people who have chronic diseases, but are also on the hook for thousands of dollars of their medical bills.

How it works: The new rules allow insurers to cover treatment for chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, before patients have met their deductibles.

  • This only applies to high-deductible plans that also offer a health savings account — which is an increasingly common arrangement.

My thought bubble: High-deductible plans and chronic disease are both pretty ubiquitous, and this will surely help sick people get the care they need.

  • As the Wall Street Journal notes, there’s a broad base of support for these new rules, including patients, insurers and policymakers from both parties.

But it’s hard to look at this change without asking some more fundamental questions about the rise of deductibles.

  • After all, making people pay for more of their own care is the whole point. High-deductible plans were designed to give people more “skin in the game.”
  • It only stands to reason that when you require people to pay a couple thousand dollars of their own bills before insurance kicks in, that’s primarily going to affect people who have a couple thousand dollars in health care bills.

Deductibles are a large and growing source of frustration for middle-class families, the L.A. Times’ Noam Levey writes.

  • Neither high deductibles nor health savings accounts have put a dent in health care prices, as their advocates thought they would.
  • And families with the highest deductibles are among the least satisfied with their employer coverage.

Go deeper: Workers’ health care costs just keep rising

 

 

Family of four faces $25,000 in average annual unsubsidized ACA costs in 2019

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/families-four-face-25000-average-annual-unsubsidized-aca-costs-2019?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTjJVNE9HTm1OelEwTlRkaiIsInQiOiJsaDZIK0JaczhmMFBzWElmSDluT1VROHc3ckM2azFCZ0NvUnR2U2NmYlRIa2VnYkw2dnR1NmJEMnFrcEFVZUVVSEpVTjlBcXkxaXZaSFFlUFR6djBvRjBTM2NpRFFQMXBDQkRVaFpQSEVtMVFTRlNqUTRBaUxTUmg2MnNrVXFiYiJ9

Costs for two- and four-person families rose despite overall premiums being relatively flat compared to last year.

Average 2019 health insurance premiums are $1,403 per month for families of four who don’t qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, according to a report released today by eHealth.

The 2019 Health Insurance Index Report analyzes costs and trends among unsubsidized consumers who purchased individual and family coverage for the 2019 plan year at eHealth during the ACA’s most recent open enrollment period. eHealth, Inc. dba as eHealthInsurance, is a private online marketplace for health insurance.

The data and research is focused on ACA market consumers who earn too much per year to qualify for government subsidies that help to reduce what they spend on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. The new report is based on individual and family health insurance applications submitted by unsubsidized eHealth consumers between November 1 and December 15, 2018.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

While overall premiums were relatively flat compared to the 2018 open enrollment period, costs for two- and four-person families hit a couple of new milestones.

The first is that total combined annual premiums plus deductibles for a four-person family topped $25,000 for 2019. The second is that average premiums for two-person families broke $1,000 per month for the first time this year.

Deductibles marked their first significant decline since 2014, when the ACA took effect. he average individual deductible decreased 6% for 2019, while the average family deductible decreased 8%.

Plan selection trends for 2019 show that HMO plans continue to dominate the market, representing 56% of all plan selections, the same as in 2018.

Meanwhile, exclusive provider organization, or EPO plans reach 26% of all plan selections, up from 20% in 2018; and silver plans reach 35% of all plan selections, up from 30% over last year.

THE LARGER TREND

An estimated 87% of Healthcare.gov customers received subsidies. Their premium cost after subsidies is $87 a month, according to the report. But costs borne by the unsubsidized are significantly greater. At eHealth during the fourth quarter of 2018, which included the ACA’s 2019 open enrollment period, 64% of applications were for consumers purchasing ACA-compliant plans not eligible for use with subsidies.

Premiums for those with employer-sponsored health insurance plans have also been on the rise.

Between 2008 and 2018, such premiums increased 55 percent — twice as fast as workers’ earnings, according to a June report from Kaiser Family Foundation. And since 2006, the average health insurance deductible for covered workers soared by more than 200 percent — from an inflation-adjusted average of $379 to more than $1,300 today.