Healthcare Reform: The Perfect or Politically Possible?

Healthcare Reform: The Perfect or Politically Possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The German Alternative

Professor Hsiao suggests another model – Germany.

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LARGER TREND

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

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

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

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

 

Cartoon – I can’t afford that diagnosis

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The health care debate we ought to be having

https://www.axios.com/what-matters-2020-health-care-costs-7139f124-d4f7-44a1-afc2-6d653ceec77d.html

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Americans worry a lot about how to get and pay for good health care, but the 2020 presidential candidates are barely talking about what’s at the root of these problems: Almost every incentive in the U.S. health care system is broken.

Why it matters: President Trump and most of the Democratic field are minimizing the hard conversations with voters about why health care eats up so much of each paycheck and what it would really take to change things.

  • Instead, the public debate focuses on ideas like how best to cover the uninsured and the relative virtue of health care “choice.”

The U.S. spent $3.6 trillion on health care last year, and almost every part of the system is pushing its costs up, not down.

 

Hospitals collect the biggest piece of the health care pie, at about $1 trillion per year.

  • Their incentive is to fill beds — to send as many bills as possible, for as much as possible.
  • Big hospital systems are buying up smaller ones, as well as physician practices, to reduce competition and charge higher prices.
  • And hospitals have resisted efforts to shift toward a system that pays for quality, rather than volume.

 

Drug companies, meanwhile, are the most profitable part of the health care industry.

  • Small biotech companies usually shoulder the risk of developing new drugs.
  • Big Pharma companies then buy those products, market them aggressively and develop a fortress of patents to keep competition at bay as long as possible.

 

The money bonanza is enticing some nontraditional players into the health care world.

 

Insurers do want to keep costs down — but many of their methods are deeply unpopular.

  • Making us pay more out of pocket and putting tighter restrictions on which doctors we can see create real and immediate headaches for patients.
  • That makes insurers the most convenient punching bag for politicians.

 

The frustrating reality: Democrats’ plans are engaging in the debate about possible solutions more than the candidates themselves.

  • It’s a tacit acknowledgment of two realities: That controlling the cost of care is imperative, and that talking about taking money away from doctors and hospitals is a big political risk.

 

What they’re saying: The top 2020 Democrats have actually released “insanely aggressive” cost control ideas, says Larry Levitt, executive vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But they don’t talk about that a lot.”

  • Medicare for All, the plan endorsed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would sharply reduce spending on doctors and hospitals by eliminating private insurance and paying rates closer to Medicare’s. Estimates range from about $380 billion to nearly $600 billion in savings each year.
  • Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have proposed an optional Medicare-like insurance plan, which anyone could buy into. It would pay providers less than private insurance, with the hopes of putting competitive pressure on private plans’ rates.
  • The savings there would be smaller than Medicare for All’s, but those plans are still significantly more ambitious than the Affordable Care Act or most of the proposals that came before it.

 

Yes, but: The health care industry has blanketed Iowa with ads, and is prepared to spend millions more, to defend the very profitable status quo.

  • The argument is simple: Reframe the big-picture debate about costs as a threat to your doctor or your hospital. It’s an easy playbook that both parties, and the industry, know well. And it usually works.

 

The bottom line: “Voters want their health care costs reduced, but that doesn’t mean they would necessarily support what it would take to make that happen,” Levitt said.

 

 

 

 

Pros and Cons of Different Public Health Insurance Options

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/journal-article/2018/nov/pros-cons-public-options-2020-democratic

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Options for Expanding Health Care Coverage

It is more than likely that Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election will propose some type of public health insurance plan. In one of two Commonwealth Fund–supported articles in Health Affairs discussing potential Democratic and Republican health care plans for the 2020 election, national health policy experts Sherry Glied and Jeanne Lambrew assess the potential impact and trade-offs of three approaches:

 

  • Incorporating public-plan elements into private plans through mechanisms such as limits on profits, additional rules on how insurers operate, or the use of Medicare payment rates.
  • Offering a public plan — some version of Medicare or Medicaid, for example — alongside private plans. Such a plan could be offered to specific age groups, like adults 50 to 64 who are not yet eligible for Medicare, to enrollees in the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplaces, or to everyone under 65, including those working for self-insured employers. It also could be made available in regions of the country where there is little health care competition.
  • Replacing the current health care financing system with a “Medicare for all” single-payer system administered by the federal government. Some single-payer proposals would allow consumers to purchase supplementary private insurance to help pay for uncovered services.

 

Issues for Consideration in 2020

The authors find trade-offs in each type of public plan. First, a single-payer system would significantly increase the federal budget and require new taxes, a politically challenging prospect. On the other hand, federal spending might decrease if a public plan were added to the marketplace or if public elements were added to private plans. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a public plan, following the same rules as private plans, would reduce federal spending by $158 billion over 10 years, while offering premiums 7 percent to 8 percent lower than private plans. A single-payer approach would lower administrative costs and profits, and likely reduce health care prices as well. By assuming control over the financing of health care, the federal government could reduce administrative complexity and fragmentation. On the flip side, the more than 175 million Americans who are privately insured would need to change insurance plans.

 

public–private choice model would help ensure that an affordable health plan option is available to Americans. While politically appealing, this option presents implementation challenges: covered benefits, payment rates, and risk-adjustments all need to be carefully managed to ensure a fair but competitive marketplace. A targeted choice option might be adopted by candidates interested in strengthening the ACA marketplaces in specific regions or for specific groups (as with the Medicare at 55 Act). It would benefit Americans whose current access to affordable coverage is limited, but the same technical challenges associated with a more comprehensive choice model would apply.

 

Finally, to lower prices for privately insured individuals, public plan tools such as deployment of Medicare-based rates could be applied to private insurance, either across the board or specifically for high-cost claims, prescription drugs, or other services. The major challenge here is setting prices that would appropriately compensate providers.

 

The Big Picture

Under the ACA, the percentage of Americans who had health insurance had reached an all-time high (91 percent) in 2016, an all-time high, and preexisting health conditions ceased to be an obstacle to affordable insurance. But Americans remain concerned about high out-of-pocket spending and access to providers, and fears over losing preexisting-condition protections have grown. While most Democratic presidential candidates will likely defend the ACA and seek to strengthen it, most recognize that fortifying the law will not be enough to cover the remaining uninsured, rein in rising spending, and make health care more affordable.

 

While the health reform proposals of Democratic candidates in 2020 will likely differ dramatically from those of Republican candidates, recent grassroots support for the ACA’s preexisting condition clause may indicate a willingness by both political parties to support additional government intervention in private insurance markets.