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.

Myth Diagnosis: Do hospitals charge more to make up for low government pay?

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/myth-diagnosis-do-hospitals-charge-more-to-make-up-for-low-government-pay/560021/

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It’s a mantra from providers to justify the disparate prices charged patients depending on their level of insurance coverage: It’s all in the name of cost shifting to make up for stingy government reimbursement.

The idea is that hospitals bill commercial payers more to make up for low rates from government payers and the costs from treating the uninsured. Providers and payers both insist the practice occurs, but academics are skeptical — and the notion is notoriously difficult to measure.

No one is doubting that the prices are different depending on who is footing the bill. The issue is whether they are dependent on each other.

“What is crystal clear is that there’s a huge unit cost payment differential between government and commercial payers,” John Pickering of Milliman told Healthcare Dive. “What isn’t clear is whether there’s a causal effect between those two.”

Heath economists, doctors and industry executives have been arguing about whether hospitals perform cost shifting for at least 40 years.

Government efforts to tamp down on runaway payments to providers may have sparked the debate. These include Medicare’s shift from strictly fee-for-service reimbursement to the prospective payment system in the 1980s.

Also, the Affordable Care Act attempted to codify efforts to pay providers based on performance with initiatives like the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program and alternative payment models.

Part of the difficulty is untangling factors like differences in geography, quality and market share, said Michael Darden, an associate professor at Carey Business School.

The body of research on healthcare cost shifting is mixed. There is evidence that some hospitals perform cost shifting, but not strong and clear results showing hospitals make such adjustments consistently or what exactly is causing them.

The debate has received some renewed attention as more states approve Medicaid expansion under the ACA and as employers consider offering high-deductible health plans that patients on the hook for more costs, Rick Gundling, senior vice president for healthcare financial practices with the Healthcare Financial Management Association, told Healthcare Dive.

“As folks get more price-sensitive through higher cost-sharing with patients and employers and these types of things — it’s certainly talked about. As it should be,” he said.

Policy implications

The topic may get even more attention as healthcare has come to dominate the early days of the 2020 presidential election, at least among the 20-plus contenders running in the primary.

While still a long way off, a “Medicare for All”-type system seems closer than any time in recent history.

While not all of the proposals explicitly or fully eliminate the private insurance industry, some (including those put forward by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.,) do, and others would at least severely curtail it. One key question for those plans is whether government rates would have to increase in order to keep hospitals and providers above water, and if so, by how much.

To counter, President Donald Trump and his administration have stepped up their scrutiny of industry billing practices. These efforts include pushing Congress to ban surprise billing and executive orders to revamp kidney care in the country and advance price transparency.

For their part,  providers say they’ll be forced to raise other rates if government programs pay less. Insurers will say the phenomenon means they must raise premiums to keep up.

In a statement to Healthcare Dive, America’s Health Insurance Plans pointed the finger at rising hospital prices, spurred in part from provider consolidation. The payer lobby argued health plans do their best to keep out-of-pocket costs affordable for customers through payment negotiations and by offering a number of coverage options.

“However, insurance premiums track directly with the underlying cost of medical care. The rising cost of doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and prescription medications all put upward pressure on premiums,” the group said.

Employers care about this issue as well, especially those that self-insure, said Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health. Coverage can get expensive for businesses because they don’t get as good of a deal as government payers, he told Healthcare Dive.

Wojcik suggested more radical change away from fee-for-service payment arranges would be a better way of dealing with the issue. It’s an argument for many who push the healthcare sector’s slow march toward paying for quality and not quantity of treatment.

“I think, ultimately, it’s about driving transformation in healthcare delivery so that there’s more of a global payment for managing someone’s health or the health of a population rather than paying piecemeal for different services, which I think is inflationary,” he said.

Regardless, whether hospitals cost shift isn’t as important as whether they go out of business. “We may be missing the point if we focus on cost shifting,” Christopher Ody, a health economist at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told Healthcare Dive.

Charging as much as they can?

A paper Darden helped author in the National Bureau of Economic Research found some hospitals that faced payment reductions from value-based Medicare programs did negotiate slightly higher average payments from private payers.

Health economist Austin Frakt noted the ability to negotiate better pricing could be related to quality improvement these hospitals likely undertook, knowing their quality measures would directly affect future payments.

It comes back to determining causality, Frakt, who holds positions with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Boston University and Harvard, told Healthcare Dive.

“It’s an important distinction, because the simplest economic model which is consistent with the evidence is that hospitals charge as much as they can to each type of payer,” he said. “So, they can’t really change what they receive from Medicare — those prices are fixed. But they charge private payers whatever the revenue- or profit-maximizing price is.”

Hospitals assert there is causality, but haven’t pointed to evidence that convinced Frakt of their argument. Frakt, for the record, understand why hospitals make the argument to policymakers, however.

“I’m not implying that this, throughout, is just to make a profit,” he said. “I think it’s possible to also have the best interests of patients in mind and to have this argument.”

Grundling said there has to be a breaking point somewhere so long as government rates fail to keep up with medical inflation. Also, hospitals have a federal legal responsibility to stabilize any patient regardless of ability to pay and have other philanthropic investments.

“It just puts a greater pressure on other payers in the system,” he said.

Frakt said the argument providers give for cost shifting doesn’t necessarily make sense for the average consumer. “It’s very strange that people find it intuitive that hospitals can readily cost shift because we don’t talk about any other industry like that,” he said. “Nobody says, well, my theater tickets was so much higher because you paid less.”

The idea that healthcare is vastly different from other industries is enduring, however, he said. “People don’t even want to think of healthcare as having prices,” he said. “How do you put a price on that?”

 

New York Insurers get 6.8% bump, say high medical costs are driving up rates

https://www.crainsnewyork.com/health-pulse/insurers-get-68-bump-say-high-medical-costs-are-driving-rates?utm_source=health-pulse-monday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190809&utm_content=hero-readmore

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Rates in the individual insurance market will increase by 6.8% on average next year—the lowest amount since 2015—as the state Department of Financial Services continued to beat the drum of affordability and reduce health plans’ proposed increases.

Insurers in the individual market had asked for 9.2% on average, and DFS trimmed those requests by about one-quarter.

DFS granted Centene’s Fidelis Care, which has the largest market share on the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace, a 3.9% increase; the insurer had asked for 6.8%.

UnitedHealthcare, which offers one of the highest-priced plans on the marketplace, sought a 27.1% price bump and was approved for 15%, the greatest average increase among all plans.

Oscar had the second-highest rate jump, 14%, which was lowered slightly from its initial 15.4% average request.

EmblemHealth, a nonprofit insurer that has lost millions in recent years, received its full 13.5% price increase.

In the small-group insurance market, insurers were granted an average 7.9% increase in premiums after requesting a 12.2% bump on average.

The percentage increase each New Yorker experiences depends on their insurer, where they live, which product they choose and whether they qualify for income-based subsidies.

The rising premiums reflect increases in the prices of medical care and prescription drugs, said Eric Linzer, president and CEO of the state Health Plan Association.

“Every New Yorker deserves affordable coverage choices that provide them with access to high-quality care,” Linzer said. “Making that a reality requires addressing the underlying factors driving health care costs, particularly the persistent price increases by drug companies and providers.”

The average request of 9.2%, which differs from the 8.4% DFS reported insurers asked for in May, accounts for the inclusion of risk adjustment, a spokeswoman for the department said.

Health Care for All New York, a coalition of patient advocacy groups, said in June that more predictable medical costs in the individual market and excessive increases in past years made insurers’ requests for 2020 unjustified.

The persistent price increases in the individual market, as well as growing out-of-pocket costs for patients, have fueled proponents of a single-payer health system. But the Cuomo administration noted that New Yorkers who don’t get insurance from their employer are still better off than they were before the Affordable Care Act.

The state said that premiums in the individual market are still 55% lower than they were before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act without accounting for income-based tax credits that can lower the cost of insurance.

“This year marks the ninth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage and the fifth year since implementation, and we continue our strong efforts to support the ACA and combat unjustified federal attacks on the nation’s health care system,” DFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell said in a statement. “By reducing insurers’ rate requests, DFS is ensuring access to affordable health care and helping to maintain a robust, competitive marketplace.”

Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society, said state lawmakers must take more aggressive action to make health insurance affordable for New Yorkers. Such action could include price controls, state premium assistance, the creation of a public option or the adoption of a single-payer health system through the New York Health Act, she said.

“I think Superintendent Lacewell and DFS did the best that they could through the administrative tools they have—that is New York’s transparent prior approval process,” Benjamin said. “But at the end of the day, New York needs to do more to address the health care affordability crisis.” —Jonathan LaMantia

 

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.”

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.”

 

 

On the Doorstep With a Plea: Will You Support Medicare for All?

Art Miller listened patiently as the stranger on his doorstep tried to sell him on the Medicare for All Act of 2019, the single-payer health care bill that has sharply divided Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.

The visitor, Steven Meier, was a volunteer canvasser who wanted Mr. Miller to call his congresswoman, Abby Finkenauer, the young Democrat who took a Republican’s seat last year in this closely divided district — and press her to embrace Medicare for all. Beyond congressional politics, there was the familiar role that Iowa plays as the first state to weigh in on the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I want to know how my grandkids are going to pay for it, O.K.?” Mr. Miller, 71, mused, peering at the flier that Mr. Meier had handed him.

It was a fairly typical encounter for Mr. Meier, 39, who with hundreds of volunteers around the country is working with National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses’ union, to build grass-roots support for the single-payer bill, a long shot on Capitol Hill and a disruptive force in the party. House Democrats have declared this Saturday and Sunday to be “a weekend of action on health care” — but they are split over whether to embrace extreme change or something closer to the status quo.

A single-payer health care system would more or less scrap private health insurance, including employer-sponsored coverage, for a system like Canada’s in which the government pays for everyone’s health care with tax dollars. Democrats not ready for that big a step are falling back on a “public option,” an alternative in which anyone could buy into Medicare or another public program, or stick with private insurance — a position once a considered firmly on the party’s left wing.

Lawmakers like Ms. Finkenauer, mindful of the delicate political balance in their districts, fear the “socialism” epithet that President Trump and his party are attaching to Medicare for all. On Friday, Mr. Trump called the House bill “socialist health care” that would “crush American workers with higher taxes, long wait times and far worse care.” But even Ms. Finkenauer, who beat the incumbent Republican in November by 16,900 votes, has been pulled left by the debate, embracing the public option, which could not get through Congress when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

“In a divided Congress, I’m focused on what we can do to bring immediate relief to Iowans,” she said in an email.

The nurses’ union and a number of other progressive groups want nothing less than a government system that pays for everyone’s health care, seizing on the issue’s prominence and a round of Medicare for all hearings in the House with canvassing in the districts of many of the 123 House Democrats who have not thrown their support behind a single-payer system.

“Hearings are a moment for us to have a national stage for this campaign,” Jasmine Ruddy, the lead organizer for the nurse union’s Medicare for all campaign, told several dozen new volunteers on a training call last month. “It’s up to us to take advantage of the momentum we already see happening and turn it into political power.”

But building support for a single-payer health care system has been slow going. On Wednesday, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, convening the House’s third Medicare for all hearing, said it was about “exploring ideas.”

Republicans warned darkly of sky-high tax increases, doctor shortages and long waits for care. Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the senior Republican on the committee, said his constituents were “frightened” about their private coverage being “ripped out from under them.”

The nurses’ union campaign began just after Democrats won the House in November, when the union and several other groups held a strategy call with Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, the chief author of the Medicare for All Act, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who pushed Medicare for all into the mainstream during his 2016 presidential campaign.

“Rather than try to convince people it’s the right system,” Ms. Ruddy said, “our strategy is to reach the people who are already convinced that health care is a human right, to bring them in and actually make them feel the action they are taking matters.”

In Dubuque, Mr. Meier and his partner, Briana Moss, have knocked on 250 doors and gathered about 50 signatures over the past few months. About 20 volunteers, including a retired nurse and several college students, are also involved. Nationwide, canvassers have knocked on 20,000 doors and collected 14,000 signatures since February.

On a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Miller, a Vietnam veteran, told Mr. Meier about his positive experience with government health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying, “I’ve seen how it can work.”

A few houses down, a woman who owns a cleaning service and would give only her first name, Sharon, and her party affiliation, Republican, said that if the bill covered abortions, “I won’t go for that.”

She added that she would be happy to stop paying $170 a month for supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare does not, but she did not want to see people who do not work receive free care. From the garage, her husband hollered that he agreed. Conceding defeat, Mr. Meier and Ms. Moss moved along.

Both Sanders supporters, they took on the cause in part because Ms. Moss has Type 1 diabetes and has struggled on and off to stay insured, though now she has Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the program. Ms. Moss, 30, went to see Ms. Finkenauer in her district office this year and asked if she supported a government system that eliminated insurance. Ms. Finkenauer, she said, stated her preference for a public option.

“That’s simply a compromise that leaves the insurance companies still in the game,” said Mr. Meier, who recently started working at John Deere building backhoes and will soon have employer-based coverage after being uninsured for his entire adult life.

The Jayapal and Sanders bills would both expand traditional Medicare to cover all Americans, and change the structure of the program to cover more services and eliminate most deductibles and co-payments. There would effectively be no private health insurance, because the new system would cover almost everything; Mr. Sanders has said private coverage could be sold for extras like cosmetic surgery.

While polling does show that Medicare for all has broad public support, that drops once people learn it would involve raising taxes or eliminating private insurance. That finding bewilders Mr. Meier, given many of the conversations he has on people’s front steps.

Those conversations keep coming. Rick Plowman 66, complained bitterly about how despite having Medicare, he had to pay nearly $500 for inhalers to treat his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Still, he was skeptical.

“I just don’t know what it’s going to look like down the road,” Mr. Plowman said. “Even Social Security for kids, you know? Even for you guys?”

“I’m willing to start making that sacrifice right now,” Mr. Meier pushed back. Mr. Plowman signed the petition.

At a white bungalow around the corner, Mr. Meier found — finally — that he was preaching to the choir with Bobby Daniels, 50, and his wife, Andrea, 46. Mr. Daniels, a forklift operator from Waterloo, said their coverage came with a $3,000 deductible and he would “most definitely” support Medicare for all. Ray Edwards, 36, an uninsured barber, also heartily signed on.

At the final stop of the day, Mr. Meier and Ms. Moss encountered Jeremy Shade, 36, a registered Republican who promptly told them his sister lived in Canada and had spent “hours and hours in the hospital, waiting for care” under that country’s single-payer system.

“I get that concern, and it’s something I’m worried about, too,” Mr. Meier said as Mr. Shade’s dog barked. “Would you be interested in maybe just calling Abby Finkenauer and saying, ‘Hey, what are we doing about the health care problem in this country?’”

“My wife would,” Mr. Shade said, explaining that she was a Democrat. “I’m real wary about it.”

Two hours of hot canvassing amid swarms of gnats had yielded six petition signatures and a few pledges to call Ms. Finkenauer. Mr. Meier was determined to end on a positive note. “I really think health care could be the issue that could get people to stop being so on one side or the other,” he said, a point that Mr. Shade accepted, shaking his hand before retreating inside.