Whole Foods is cutting medical benefits for hundreds of part-time workers

https://www.businessinsider.com/whole-foods-cuts-medical-benefits-for-part-time-workers-2019-9?fbclid=IwAR1rCZfjB2rg8xRy7SzoYE51-JtpCYvD8iggWEB7Jc97ly8P3G_29-YjTAA

Whole Foods

  • Whole Foods is cutting medical benefits for hundreds of part-time workers.
  • The Amazon-owned company told Business Insider it was cutting benefits “to better meet the needs of our business and create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model.”
  • “I am in shock,” one Whole Foods worker said. “I’ve worked here 15 years. This is why I keep the job — because of my benefits.”

Whole Foods is cutting medical benefits for hundreds of part-time workers, the company confirmed to Business Insider on Thursday.

The changes will take effect on January 1 and affect just under 2% of Whole Foods’ total workforce, a Whole Foods spokesperson told Business Insider.

Whole Foods has about 95,000 employees, so it means about 1,900 people will lose benefits.

The benefits that the company is cutting are offered to part-time employees who work at least 20 hours a week. The changes will not affect full-time employees.

Whole Foods said it was making the change “to better meet the needs of our business and create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model.”

“The small percentage of part-time team members … who previously opted into medical benefits through Whole Foods Market’s healthcare plan — less than 2% of our total workforce — will no longer be eligible to buy into medical coverage through the company,” the Whole Foods spokesperson said.

“We are providing team members with resources to find alternative healthcare coverage options, or to explore full-time, healthcare-eligible positions starting at 30 hours per week. All Whole Foods Market team members continue to receive employment benefits including a 20% in-store discount.”

A 15-year employee of Whole Foods said she was devastated by the news.

She told Business Insider in an interview that her family was covered by the health-insurance plan she is enrolled in through her job at Whole Foods.

She said she would have to increase her hours to become eligible for full-time benefits and pay for childcare, or shop for a new and potentially more expensive health-insurance plan on the private marketplace. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

“I am in shock,” she said. “I’ve worked here 15 years. This is why I keep the job — because of my benefits.”

 

 

 

Rate of uninsured people increases for first time since ACA rolled out

https://www.axios.com/uninsured-rate-increases-first-time-since-obamacare-ec6dbd6d-fffc-446d-be4c-02bed0d3ea3e.html

Image result for uninsured health care

Roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the U.S. population, had no health insurance at some point in 2018, according to new figures from the Census Bureau.

Why it matters: Last year’s uninsured rate increased from 7.9% in 2017 — the first time the uninsured rate has gone up since the Affordable Care Act has been in effect.

Between the lines: The uninsured population does not include the “underinsured,” or people who have medical coverage but face prohibitively high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

  • The figure also does not include people who have short-term plans, association plans and religious-based sharing ministries — policies the Trump administration has promoted, but that have holes in coverage that could leave people on the hook for high costs.

The intrigue: The type of coverage that witnessed the largest decline in 2018 was Medicaid, which fell 0.7 percentage points.

  • 4 states where the uninsured rate had a statistically significant increase were Alabama, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas, all of which have not fully expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

The bottom line: The uninsured rate is still markedly lower before the ACA became law, but it’s an odd paradox to see more people lose health coverage even though the economy created more jobs.

 

 

Biden, Sanders, Warren clash over Medicare for All in Houston

https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/461229-biden-sanders-warren-clash-over-medicare-for-all-in-houston

Image result for Biden, Sanders, Warren clash over Medicare for All in Houston

The battle over health care that has dominated the Democratic race for the White House took center stage in Houston, where for the first time the top three candidates tangled over whether the nation is ready for sweeping reforms.

Former Vice President Joe Biden went back and forth at the opening of Thursday’s debate with the two progressives who are his leading challengers atop the polls, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Arguing that the “Medicare for All” proposal championed by Sanders would cost people their insurance, Biden called out the Vermont senator as a socialist and said his proposals would be too costly.

At one point in the debate, Biden said of Warren and Sanders that “nobody’s yet said how much it’s gonna cost for the taxpayer.”

He also pointed to the taxes that would have to increase for middle class people to pay for Medicare for All.

“There will be deductible in your paycheck,” Biden said, referencing the chunk that taxes would take out of people’s pay.

Sanders said most Americans were getting a raw deal in terms of their present health care costs compared with countries that have systems more similar to his Medicare for All approach.

“Let us be clear, Joe, in the United States of America we are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on earth,” Sanders said. 

“This is America,” Biden retorted. 

“Yeah, but Americans don’t want to pay twice as much as other countries and they guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders responded. 

Health care is a top issue in the race according to polls, and Democrats believe they can win the White House if the general election against President Trump is focused on the issue.

But it is also the issue that divides the Democratic candidates the most, with Biden and other centrists proposing more modest steps, such as reforms to ObamaCare.

The battle over health care is intertwined with the debate Democrats are having over which of their candidates is best positioned to defeat President Trump, with some in the party worried that Warren and Sanders are too liberal to win a general election. Others say their bold ideas are what is needed for the party to defeat Trump.

Biden argues Medicare for All means scrapping former President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, instead of building on it.

While Sanders touted that everyone would have coverage under his plan and that it would be more generous, with no premiums or deductibles, Biden countered with the cost of the proposal, which estimates put at around $32 trillion over 10 years.

In the debate’s first hour, Biden was already hitting Sanders and Warren over the cost of the plan.

“The senator says she’s for Bernie,” Biden said of Warren’s support for Sanders’s Medicare for All plan. “Well I’m for Barack.”

Warren, pressed by host George Stephanopolous on whether middle class taxes would rise from Medicare for All, did not directly answer, pivoting to argue that overall costs for the middle class would go down once the abolition of premiums and deductibles is taken into account.

“What families have to deal with is cost, total cost,” Warren said, adding: “The richest individuals and the biggest corporations are going to pay more, and middle class families are going to pay less.”

Other candidates were also in the middle of the Medicare for All exchanges.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who drew flak in the early months of the campaign for seeming to change her position on health care several times, touted the plan she eventually developed, to allow some private insurance to remain under Medicare for All by allowing private companies to administer some plans in a tightly regulated way.

“I want to give credit to Bernie. Take credit, Bernie,” Harris said, while adding, “I wanted to make the plan better, which I did.”

At another point in the debate, Biden dismissed the idea that employers would raise workers’ wages if employers no longer had to provide health insurance under a Medicare for All system. 

“My friend from Vermont thinks the employer’s going to give you back what you’ve negotiated as a union all these years … they’re going to give back that money to the employee?” Biden said.

“As a matter of fact they will,” Sanders interjected.

“Let me tell you something, for a Socialist you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do,” Biden responded. 

While all of the Democrats advocate large additional government spending to expand health insurance coverage, the debates over whether private insurance should remain as an option has proven to be a particularly fierce source of debate.

Republicans have sensed an opening on that point as well, eagerly bashing Democrats for wanting to take away employer-sponsored coverage that millions of Americans have. Sanders and Warren counter that Medicare for All coverage would be better insurance, with no deductibles at all, so people would not miss it.

“I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren said, noting people like their doctors, which they would be able to keep. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has staked out a more moderate ground, tore into Sanders, though, over his plan’s elimination of private insurance.

“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill, and on page eight of the bill it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it,” Klobuchar said.

“I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea,” she added. 

Amid the division, Harris tried to strike a unifying note.

“I think this discussion is giving the American people a headache,” she said. “What they want to know is that they’re going to have health care and cost will not be a barrier to getting it.” 

 

The latest on US health insurance coverage, income and poverty

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2019/sep/11/latest-health-coverage-income-and-poverty-us/

Protesters gather across the Chicago River from Trump Tower to rally against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act on March 24, 2017. (AP)

New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show an uptick in Americans who are uninsured but modest progress on poverty and income — handing Democrats and Republicans data for talking points.

Overall, the percentage of Americans lacking health coverage at any point in the year rose from 7.9% in 2017 to 8.5% in 2018. That’s according to annual numbers released Sept. 10.

The rise in the uninsured spanned demographic groups. Uninsured rates rose between 2017 and 2018 for whites, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, native-born Americans, foreign-born Americans, people with disabilities, people without high school degrees, and those under 18.

The 2017 and 2018 figures are not directly comparable with previous years due to changes in how the data is calculated. But a different data set showed that the small rises in the uninsured rate for 2017 and 2018 marked a change for a number that had improved every year since its peak in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was passed. The law created a national marketplace for individual insurance and allowed states to expand Medicaid to more people.

Democrats pounced on the data release, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blaming “President Trump’s cruel health care sabotage,” including his efforts to pare back the Affordable Care Act through regulations and in court.

But the Trump administration could point to modest gains in other statistics reported by the Census Bureau.

“Americans of all backgrounds are experiencing economic success in the Trump economy,” the White House said in a statement that cited media coverage of the new numbers on income and poverty.

The U.S. poverty rate fell for the fourth consecutive year, from 12.3% in 2017 to 11.8% in 2018. The national poverty rate is currently lower than it has been in any year since 2000, as this chart indicates.

Meanwhile, median household income rose for the fourth consecutive year after adjusting for inflation. It was a small rise, however, from $62,626 in 2017 to $63,179 in 2018, or an increase of less than 1%. And the pace of growth has slowed somewhat since the middle of this decade.

A leading measure of income inequality known as the GINI coefficient dipped slightly between 2017 and 2018. But its decades-long rise toward greater inequality was not greatly slowed.

Under this measurement, a score of 0.0 represents total income equality, while a score of 1.0 represents total inequality.

The overall statistics for poverty and income also mask significant differences by race and ethnicity.

In 2018, for instance, the poverty rate for whites was 8.1%. But it was much higher for African-Americans (20.8%) and Hispanic-Americans (17.6%) and modestly higher for Asian-Americans (10.1%).

The poverty rate fell slightly in 2018 for whites, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, while rising slightly for Asian-Americans.

 

 

 

Sutter Health faces class-action lawsuit over pricing: 4 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/sutter-health-faces-class-action-lawsuit-over-pricing-4-things-to-know.html?oly_enc_id=2893H2397267F7G

Image result for sutter health headquarters

A class-action lawsuit alleging Sutter Health violated California’s antitrust laws by using its market power to overcharge patients is slated to open Sept. 23, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Four things to know:

1. The lawsuit dates back to 2014. Self-funded employers and union trusts initially filed the case, which was later joined with a lawsuit brought in 2018 by California’s attorney general.

2. In March, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said a six-year investigation revealed Sutter restricted health insurers from providing consumers with more low-cost health plan options, and the health system set excessively high out-of-network prices. Sutter also allegedly restricted publication of provider cost information, which impeded transparency.

3. Sutter could be liable for as much as $2.7 billion. The plaintiffs are seeking up to $900 million in damages, and that amount can be tripled under California’s antitrust law, according to the Los Angeles Times.

4. Sutter denies the allegations. Regarding the lawsuit, a health system spokesperson released the following statement to the Los Angeles Times:

“This lawsuit irresponsibly targets Sutter’s integrated system of hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and affiliated doctors serving millions of patients throughout Northern California. While insurance companies want to sell narrow networks to employers, integrated networks like Sutter’s benefit patient care and experience, which leads to greater patient choice and reduces surprise out-of-network bills to our patients.”

Access the full Los Angeles Times article here.

 

 

 

Another round of debate over hospital consolidation

Image result for Another round of debate over hospital consolidation
 
Are hospital mergers a good thing or a bad thing?

Much of the answer to that question depends on what happens after the merger—does the combined organization provide better, more efficient care, or does it use its increased leverage to raise prices? Yet another round of back and forth on this issue took place this week, as the American Hospital Association (AHA) released the results of a study it commissioned from economic analysis firm Charles River Associates (CRA), while a group of academic antitrust specialists countered with their own briefing in response.

The AHA study, based on interviews with select health system leaders and econometric analysis by CRA, shows (surprise, surprise) that consolidation decreases hospital expenses by 2.3 percent, reduces mortality and readmissions, and reduces revenue per admission by 3.5 percent—indicating that the “savings” from consolidation are being passed along to purchasers. The economists, including Martin Gaynor at Carnegie Mellon, Zack Cooper at Yale, and Leemore Dafny at Harvard, countered in their briefing (surprise, surprise) that CRA’s research was biased in favor of hospitals, and cited numerous academic studies that indicate that hospital consolidation drives overall healthcare costs higher.

Beyond the predictable debate, our view is that consolidation can and should lead to better quality and lower prices—but that it largely hasn’t delivered on that promise. The prospect of “integrated care” that’s often touted by consolidation advocates hasn’t materialized in most places, both because hospital executives haven’t pushed hard enough on strategies to produce it, and because the market lacks sufficient incentives to encourage it.

Many Americans clueless about out-of-pocket medical costs, study finds

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/many-americans-clueless-about-out-of-pocket-medical-costs-study-finds.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

Image result for cartoon clueless on out-of-pocket medical costs

When it comes to out-of-pocket medical costs, many people are unaware of their potential financial burden, according to a new study released by Discover Personal Loans, a provider of banking tools and resources across various financing options.

For the study, researchers examined the average cost of certain medical procedures and compared them to perceptions of costs from 969 surveyed U.S. residents.

Four takeaways from the study:

1. Researchers found that a three-day hospitalization, knee replacement surgery and an appendectomy had the greatest variation of average actual costs compared to average perceived costs.

2. For example, surveyed Americans perceived the average cost of a three-day hospitalization to be $11,013, while the actual average cost posted on Healthcare.gov is about $30,000. That’s a variation of 63 percent.

3. The variation between average actual cost and average perceived cost for a knee replacement surgery and an appendectomy were 34 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

4. Surveyed Americans anticipate spending $2,016 for an emergency room visit, up 5 percent from the average actual cost from the Health Care Cost Institute and cited by CNN, $1,917.

Read more about the study here.