Out-of-pocket limits aren’t silver bullets

Part of the reason why medical debt is so high is because many Americans don’t have enough savings to pay their deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, according to a second KFF analysis.

Driving the news: Health insurance plans’ out-of-pocket limits prevent enrollees from paying limitless sums of money for medical care. But that doesn’t mean they protect people from having to pay several thousands of dollars — which not everyone has lying around.

  • Deductibles alone, which people must pay before coverage for most services kicks in, are frequently thousands of dollars and can exceed the amount of liquid assets a household has.

By the numbers: Over 40% of multi-person households can’t cover a mid-range employer family plan deductible of $4,000, and 61% don’t have enough to cover a high-range deductible.

  • The ability to pay out-of-pocket costs varies significantly by income.

America’s giant medical debt

Americans owe at least $195 billion of medical debt, despite 90% of the population having some kind of health coverage, according to new research from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why it matters: People are spending down their savings and skimping on food, clothing and household items to pay their medical bills, Adriel writes.

About 16 million people, or 6% of U.S. adults, owe more than $1,000 in medical bills, and 3 million people owe more than $10,000.

  • The financial burden falls disproportionately on people with disabilities, those in generally poor health, Black Americans and people living in the South or in non-Medicaid expansion states, per the research.

Go deeper: 16% of privately-insured adults say they would need to take on credit card debt to meet an unexpected $400 medical expense, while 7% would borrow money from friends or family, per the research, which focused on adults who reported having more than $250 in unpaid bills as of December 2019. 

It’s not yet clear how much the pandemic and the recession factor into the picture, in part because many people delayed or went without care. There also was a small shift from employer-based coverage to Medicaid, which has little or no cost-sharing.

  • While the new federal ban on surprise billing limits exposure to some unexpected expenses, it only covers a fraction of the large medical bills many Americans face, the researchers say.

Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is a go

https://mailchi.mp/92a96980a92f/the-weekly-gist-january-14-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Explainer: The legal challenges awaiting Biden's vaccine mandate | Reuters

Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is a go, but its mandate for large employers and at-home testing plan face roadblocks. The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the vaccine mandate for the nation’s healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid can go forward while lower courts hear legal challenges. But it said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not have the authority to enforce the broader vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses over 100 employees, which would have covered more than 80 million private sector workers.

Meanwhile, private insurers are required to begin covering eight at-home tests per beneficiary per month starting tomorrow. The roughly half of Americans with private insurance coverage stand to benefit, if they’re lucky enough to get their hands on rapid tests, which have been in increasingly scarce supply.

The Gist: Health systems that were early to issue vaccine mandates will have a leg up on others who paused requirements amid ongoing legal challenges. Lagging facilities now have a little over a month to start enforcement amid troublesome staffing shortages.

Also, the use of the private insurance system to cover at-home tests not only excludes nearly 40 million seniors on traditional Medicare, as well as the uninsured, but means that the cost of tests will ultimately be borne by consumers and employers through higher insurance premiums.

Many Americans Remain Uninsured Following Layoffs

https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/view/many-americans-remain-uninsured-following-layoffs

See if Coverage Loss Qualifies for Special Enrollment Period Today |  HealthCare.gov

Job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic are the highest since the Great Depression. A year and a half later, most Americans who lost their health insurance along with their job remain uninsured.

Most Americans who lost their jobs and health insurance more than a year ago remain uninsured.

Over 1,200 Americans who are still unemployed due to COVID-19 were surveyed by AffordableHealthInsurance.com. At least four out of five in all participants don’t have insurance coverage.

To be exact, 56% of Americans who remain unemployed since being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic lost their health insurance along with their job. In addition, 23% of workers did not have employer-provided health insurance prior to losing their jobs.

Even before the pandemic, small businesses struggled to absorb the cost of providing health insurance to their employees, said health insurance advisor and nursing consultant Tammy Burns in the Affordable Health Insurance study.

“Companies have cut costs by going with high-deductible plans and sharing less of the cost towards the insurance,” Burns said. “This makes it cheaper for employees to get their own health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. At larger companies, health care costs are growing faster than worker wages, so a large amount of an employee’s check goes to insurance. Therefore, many workers opt out because they can’t afford it.”

Majority of Those Who Lost Health Insurance Still Lack Coverage

Of the 56% of unemployed Americans who lost their health insurance along with their job, 81% are still uninsured.

This lack of coverage is impacting certain groups more than others. There are also several contributing factors to why the number of unemployed Americans without health insurance remains high.

These factors are:

  • Men more likely to remain uninsured than women

When broken down by gender, men are more likely than women to have lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs at 66% and 44%, respectively. However, women are twice as likely as men to have not had health insurance in the first place at 31% and 16%, respectively.

Currently, men are slightly more likely to still be uninsured. Eighty-four percent of male survey respondents do not currently have health insurance, compared to 75% of women.

  • Majority of unemployed Millennials, Gen Xers still uninsured

Our survey also found that certain age groups are more likely than others to still be uninsured after a pandemic-related job loss.

Eighty-six percent of individuals ages 35 to 44, and 84% of both 25 to 34 year-olds and 45 to 54 year-olds remain without health insurance after being laid off. Comparatively, 67% of unemployed individuals 18 to 24, and 58% of those older than 55 are still uninsured.

Americans ages 25 to 44 are also the age group most likely to have lost their health insurance when they were let go from their jobs (66%).

  • Inability to Afford Private Insurance The Top Reason to Remain Uninsured

The high cost of individual insurance is the number one reason Americans still unemployed from the pandemic remain uninsured.

Sixty-seven percent of those uninsured can’t afford private health insurance. Eleven percent of people who still lack health insurance say they did not qualify for government-funded health insurance, despite the fact that a number of states expanded access to Medicaid during the pandemic.

A lack of understanding about how the ACA marketplace works may also play a role in why uninsured Americans are not pursuing all possible avenues to get health insurance.

“People are scared of the ACA because it involves a lot of personal information, like taxes,” Burns said. “I have found that many people are afraid it is ‘the government being in my business.’ There is a lack of knowledge about how helpful and affordable the ACA is now. There needs to be better education about this program.”

  • One in five uninsured Americans choose not to have health insurance

The survey also found 20% of unemployed Americans who are uninsured choose to forgo health insurance altogether.

This is particularly true for men, 22% of whom are choosing not to have health insurance, compared to 15% of women.

Younger adults are also more likely than older Americans to opt out of health insurance if they are unemployed. Twenty-five percent of 25 to 34 year-olds, and 20% of 25 to 34 year-olds choose not to have health insurance.

  • Medication, Routine Checkups Skipped Due to Lack of Insurance

A lack of insurance has serious short- and long-term implications for individuals’ health and well-being. The biggest impact: 58% of uninsured individuals are no longer getting routine care, which could hinder their ability to identify more serious underlying issues.

Other impacts include no longer taking doctor-prescribed medication (56%); delaying planned medical procedures (46%); not seeking treatment for chronic issues (44%), and no longer receiving mental health treatment (41%).

  • Three-quarters of older Americans not getting regular check-ups

Our survey also found that those at greater risk for medical issues, based on age, are the most likely to be skipping their routine check-ups. Three-fourths of uninsured individuals over the age of 55 (76%) say they are not going for regular doctor visits because of their lack of insurance, the highest percentage of any age group.

Meanwhile, 64% of individuals 35 to 44 are not taking doctor-prescribed medication, which can have both short- and long-term negative effects.

  • Majority of Uninsured Americans “Very likely” to be Financially Devastated by Medical Emergency

Given that so many individuals are already hard-pressed to afford health insurance, it’s not surprising that many of them will also be in a dangerous place financially if there is a medical emergency.

Fifty-nine percent of uninsured people are “very likely” to be financially devastated by a medical emergency, while another quarter are “somewhat likely” to face financial ruin in the event of a medical emergency.

Nonprofit health plans focus on reducing premiums, expanding benefits

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/nonprofit-health-plans-focus-reducing-premiums-expanding-benefits

Nonprofit payers have used a variety of strategies to address plan affordability throughout the next year, including reducing premiums by as much as 10% in some instances, finds a new report from the Alliance of Community Health Plans.

ACHP’s inaugural Report on Affordability found that when health plans manage premiums, provide enhanced benefits, smooth the way for access and reduce costs for governments and employers, the system – and outcomes – improve.

This is exemplified by some of the strategies employed by ACHP member plans, which largely reduced insurance premiums or held them flat, with some member companies reducing premiums by as much as 10%.

On top of that, every plan added new health benefits, or expanded existing ones, without increasing costs to consumers, the report found. Some of the additional benefits include free vaccines, transportation, hearing aids, reduced insulin costs, nutrition classes and meal services, smoking cessation programs and $0 co-pays for mental health visits.

Roughly three-quarters of ACPH plans moved acute and recovery services out of the hospital setting, which was deemed too expensive in most cases. By establishing hospital-at-home programs and remote patient monitoring, plans have generated significant savings for both consumers and the health system, plus improved consumer satisfaction, results showed.

Meanwhile, about two-thirds of the plans offered price transparency tools meant to allow consumers to make more-informed choices. They included information on inpatient and outpatient services, behavioral health, prescription drugs, lab and imaging services and other fees, and many provided options for several locations and virtual care, a move intended to reduce travel costs.

Priority Health’s cost estimator has tallied $13.8 million in shared savings and paid out roughly $4.1 million in rewards to members.

In a bid to improve access, all plans expanded telehealth offerings, smoothing access to mental healthcare as well as to specialties such as Medication Assisted Treatment, physical and occupational therapy, medication management, speech therapy and dialysis. Most eliminated co-pays and cost sharing.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

In the last year, ACHP members expanded the hospital-at-home care model, attempting to offer more efficient ways to provide acute and recovery care as well as care management in a home setting. The expansion of virtual care, complete with remote monitoring and social support, reduces the risk of infection, keeps patients comfortable at home and alleviates inpatient hospital bed shortages, according to the report.

For example, SelectHealth and its owner system, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, launched Connect Care Pro, a virtual hospital meant to enable access for patients in remote locations. The online, digital program connects more than 500 caregivers across the Intermountain system, enabling patients to receive both basic medical and specialty care without making a long journey, including by helicopter.

Presbyterian Health of New Mexico’s Complete Care, on the other hand, is a wrap-around program that combines primary, urgent and home care for patients with complex medical needs, including those with functional decline and at risk of needing long-term institutional care. Patients receive and manage their care from home, 24/7, including acute and palliative care, house-call and same-day visits, as well as medication management. In addition, care coordinators and social workers manage social needs, including transportation and food insecurity.

And the Home Care Recovery program from Wisconsin’s Security Health Plan and Marshfield Clinic Health System brings the elements of acute inpatient recovery to a patient’s home, eliminating fixed-cost allocations associated with traditional hospital-level care and reducing post-acute utilization and readmissions for 150 traditional inpatient conditions such as congestive heart failure, pneumonia and asthma.

THE LARGER TREND

A 2016 report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that nonprofit organizations and health plans tend to receive higher star ratings than their for-profit counterparts.

For Medicare Part Ds, about 70% of the nonprofit contracts received four or more stars compared to 39% of the for-profit MA-Part-Ds. Similarly, roughly 63% of nonprofit prescription drug plans received four or more stars, compared to 24% of the for-profit PDPs.

Medicare’s looming premium hike

Two workers serve food to two elderly women at a senior living center.

Monthly premiums that cover physician and outpatient care for Medicare patients will increase by 15% next year, the Biden administration said in a notice Friday evening.

Why it matters: People on Medicare are getting slammed with a big hike during an election year, due largely to the big price tag from the questionable Alzheimer’s treatment, Aduhelm, and uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus.

By the numbers: Standard Medicare Part B premiums will be $170.10 per month next year, up from $148.50 per month this year.

  • That equals an extra $259.20 in extra costs over the course of the year, just in premiums.
  • The Part B deductible also is increasing 15%, from $203 to $233.

Between the lines: Medicare is still determining whether it will pay for Aduhelm yet, but federal actuaries have to plan for a “high-cost scenario of Aduhelm coverage,” regulators said.

  • The FDA approved Aduhelm in June, and Biogen priced Aduhelm at $56,000 per year on average.
  • That price tag, along with all of the hospital and doctor costs associated with administering the drug and ancillary tests, could lead to “very significant” costs for the taxpayer-funded program, according to the notice.

The bottom line: The pandemic has made it difficult to predict future Medicare spending, such as trying to determine whether patients will get more non-COVID care that had been put off.

  • But Aduhelm — a treatment that has not conclusively proved that it improves brain function of Alzheimer’s patients — is now a high-profile example of pharma pricing power affecting Medicare patients’ pocketbooks and represents a redistribution of taxpayer money into Biogen’s coffers.

Democrats Should Talk About Costs, Not Fairness, to Sell Drug Pricing to Voters

https://view.newsletters.time.com/?qs=ea318fe40822a16d35fd05551e26f48182b6d89aa3b6000b896a9ff2546a39caab4656832bb3a0c5bda16bcd6517859e00eba11282e80813fd45887b2c2398c865b7cca1f30f6315a7a3fb7a1b05cde6

Democrats Should Talk About Costs, Not Fairness, to Sell Drug Pricing to  Voters | Time

Here in Washington, the conversation about politics is often framed as a spectrum, a straight line with poles at the end that are hard-wired opposites. Team Blue to the left and Team Red to the right. But in reality, the chatter might more accurately be framed as a loop, with the far ends bending back on themselves like a lasso. Eventually, the far-right voices and the far-left voices meet at the weird spot where Rand Paul supporters find common ground with The Squad.

It’s often at the knot between the two ends of that scale that we find some of the loudest voices on any given issue: foreign aid, vaccine mandates, the surveillance state. Right now, as Congress is considering a massive spending package on roads and bridges, pre-K and paid family leave, lawmakers have been debating a point on which political opponents agree: drug prices are too high.

Drug pricing is one of those rare sweet spots where it seems everyone in Washington can agree that consumers are getting a raw deal. The motives behind that sentiment differ, of course: liberals want to make medical care more accessible and to curb the power of big pharma, and conservatives see drug prices divorced from pure capitalism. But everyone can rally around the end goal. No one gets excited to tuck away pennies on the paycheck to control acid reflux or prevent migraines.

The package under consideration tries to fix drug costs by ending the ban on feds negotiating with pharmaceutical companies. In a deal hashed out among Democrats, Medicare would be allowed to negotiate directly with drug companies on the prices of the 10 most expensive drugs by 2025. That number would double to 20 drugs three years later. Only established drugs that have been on the market at least nine years in most cases would be eligible, giving pharmaceutical companies almost a decade of unrestricted profitability. (Start-up biotech companies would be exempted from the process under the guise of giving newcomer innovators a leg-up.)

For individuals on private insurance, their drug costs would be tied to inflation, meaning no spiking costs if a drug becomes popular. Seniors, meanwhile, would have a $2,000 cap on what they’d be responsible for at the pharmacy.

Democrats have been working for years to make drug companies the enemy. In the current environment of woke capitalism, they’re an easy target for lawmakers in Washington to come after. Drugs, after all, aren’t luxury goods. They’re necessary. And for the government to give them a pass in ways few other industries enjoy, that just seems wrong to the far-left wing of the Democratic Party that has flirted with elements of socialism.

It turns out, maybe that messaging isn’t working. New polling, provided exclusively to TIME from centrist think tank Third Way, suggests the way the conversation is framed matters more than you’d think. In a poll of 1,000 likely voters in September, costs were their biggest hangup about the healthcare system, regardless of political identity. Almost 40% of respondents cited healthcare costs as the biggest flaw in the system.

What didn’t seem to bother people much? Fairness. That’s right. The spot where the far-right and the far-left tines of the political fork meet is usually seen as an objection to a system rigged against the consumers. But a meager 18% of respondents to the Third Way poll say profits were what’s wrong with the system. Grievance isn’t the most grievous of problems.

And if you dig a little deeper, you find other reasons Democrats might want to reconsider how they talk about drug prices in the twin infrastructure plans parked in Congress. In fact, there’s a 12-point gap in two competing reasons to address healthcare; lowering costs draws the support of 72% of respondents while making things fair wins backing from 60%.

“This is kitchen table economics and it’s not a morality play,” says Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way and its policy chief who is advising the Hill on messaging on the twin bills. “Those are winning messages, especially on healthcare. You’re going to keep the exact same system, but you’re going to get some help with costs.”

In other words, the chatter in the purple knot might feel most fulsome when talking about justice and weeding out the super-rich exploiters of capitalism. But, really, people just want to hold onto their cash. Protections against healthcare bankruptcy are super popular, suggesting the fear of losing everything to a hospital visit is real. Capitalism may well be exploitative but it’s tough to argue that a few extra bucks in the bank can make falling asleep easier at the end of the day.

So as Congress gets ready to move forward with drug prices in its infrastructure talks, lawmakers can find some comfort that the whole of the political spectrum agrees costs need to come down. And they don’t really care if it’s done in a fair way — as long as their savings doesn’t take a hit every 90 days.

GOP targets Dems with “Medicscare” ads

https://www.axios.com/gop-targets-dems-with-medicscare-ads-abc27c8c-f2d2-4e3d-9d4b-40a5552d4444.html

Conservative and industry groups are trying to whip up opposition to President Biden’s massive social spending plan by warning it will imperil Medicare benefits, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: “Medicscare” is a well-worn political tactic precisely because it can be effective. For Democrats, there’s zero room for defections against the $3.5 trillion proposal if they want to pass the bill.

What’s happening: Senior citizens in Arizona, represented by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), potential Democratic holdout, have started receiving large boxes labeled “Medical Shipment. Please open immediately.”

  • Inside, they find an empty prescription drug bottle and literature warning of Democratic plans to “ration Medicare Part D.” That’s a reference to a budget reconciliation bill provision that would allow the government to negotiate Medicare reimbursement rates for prescription drugs.
  • The mailers are the work of the Common Sense Leadership Fund, a Republican-aligned advocacy group. The mailers in Arizona specifically target Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who’s up for re-election next year.
  • CSLF spokesman Colin Reed told Axios the group is mailing the packages to seniors and unaffiliated voters in Arizona and New Hampshire, where the group is targeting Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who’s also up for re-election.

Another nonprofit advocacy group, A Healthy Future, is targeting the prescription drug portions of the bill in a digital ad campaign aimed at key Democratic votes.

  • The group has spent nearly $300,000 on GoogleFacebook and Instagram ads aimed at Reps. Frank Pallone, Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim, all Democrats from New Jersey — where the drug industry has a huge economic footprint.
  • “This is a prescription for disaster,” its ads say. They urge calls to Congress to “oppose cutting Medicare to pay for the $3.5 trillion spending plan.”
  • It’s not clear who’s behind A Healthy Future — the group did not respond to inquiries from Axios — but its messaging on reconciliation and past policy fights track with drug industry priorities.

The big picture: Democrats have turned to drug pricing reforms to offset part of the legislation’s massive price tag, potentially paying for as much as $600 billion in new spending.

  • That’s drawn intense opposition from the pharmaceutical industry — and lawmakers who enjoy the industry’s backing.
  • If it’s included in the final version of the legislation, it could be a major sticking point for groups looking to peel off wobbly Democratic votes.
  • Sinema has already said she opposes the effort.

Yes, but: The Mediscare tactic is larger than just the drug pricing fight. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed conservative advocacy group, is running its own ads warning of much larger impending Medicare cuts.

  • It says the spending bill’s efforts to expand Medicare will imperil the program itself.
  • “Medicare is set to go bankrupt in about four years,” the ads claim. “Congress is acting irresponsibly and putting the program in jeopardy.”
  • AFP’s ads have touched on drug pricing as well, which it’s dubbed “a 95% drug tax to fund $3.5 trillion in wasteful spending.”