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.” 

 

Republicans ready to revive ACA repeal talks

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

Image result for aca repeal

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

Image result for band aid

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.”

 

 

 

In Wednesday’s second Democratic debate, 7 of 10 candidates support Medicare for All

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139034?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWW1OaFpUazJaV1l4TldFeiIsInQiOiJPSUpCQjRXc1E1MTZUUTJIaWFHTWtPWEFTVzRYa0RWTUJ6dFc4ZHNSWlN3aWlKSjlmN3NsajZ0b01PSGkzdHUrQWg1UzR2VUM5QWlSbXdLcG5qUFBIWlVPV1wvWnlKTHlUZ3lNU3JCWG9oM1JLY3hjc3hSRXl3RnBEanlPbUpSZnkifQ%3D%3D

Democratic candidates take the stage during first debate in June.

Expanding coverage, lowering healthcare costs, central to Democratic agenda.

Tonight, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bennet, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio take the stage for round two of the Democratic presidential debates.

Seven support Medicare for All. The others – Biden, Bennett and Inslee have come out in favor of a public option. Here, in no particular order, is a look at where each candidate stands on healthcare coverage.

Joe Biden

As vice president to President Barack Obama, former Senator Joe Biden carries into this election the legacy of the Affordable Care Act. As president, Biden said he would protect the ACA and prevent further Republican attempts to dismantle it.

Unlike many of his Democratic rivals, Biden does not support full Medicare for All. Instead of getting rid of private insurance, Biden said he would build on the ACA through the Biden Plan to create a public health insurance option. As in Medicare, costs would be reduced through negotiating for lower prices from hospitals and other providers.

He also has a plan to increase the value of the ACA tax credits by eliminating the 400% income cap on tax credit eligibility and lowering the limit on the cost of coverage from 9.86% of income to 8.5%. This means that no one would spend more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance. Additionally,  Biden would base the size of tax credits on the cost of the higher-tiered gold plan, rather than silver plan.

Biden also supports premium-free access to the public option for individuals in the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. States that have already expanded Medicaid would have the choice of moving the expansion population to the premium-free public option, as long as the states continue to pay their current share of the cost of covering those individuals.

Biden also promises to stop surprise billing, tackle market concentration, repeal the exception allowing drug companies to avoid negotiating with Medicare over drug prices and limiting the launch price for drugs that face no competition, among other actions.

In his words: “When we passed the Affordable Care Act, I told President Obama it was a big deal – or something to that effect.”

Kamala Harris

California Senator Kamala Harris often refers to her mother’s diagnosis of colon cancer and her Medicare coverage for treatment as an example of why all Americans should have Medicare for All.

Harris is looking to eliminate premiums and out-of-pocket costs through government insurance that guarantees comprehensive care including dental and vision and coverage. Harris gives no estimate of the cost of universal healthcare, but says taking profit out of America’s healthcare system would save money.

Her Medicare for All plan, which is similar to Senator Bernie Sanders – would cover all medically necessary services, including emergency room visits, doctor visits, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, telehealth and comprehensive reproductive care services. It would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

As former Attorney General of California who won a $320 million settlment from insurers, Harris said she wants to take on Big Pharma and private insurers to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

She also has strong views on prosecuting opioid makers and for preserving women’s right to healthcare and protecting Planned Parenthood from the financial cuts and policies of the Trump Administration.

She would institute an audit of prescription drug costs to ensure pharmaceutical companies are not charging more than other comparable countries, a comprehensive maternal child health program to reduce deaths among women and infants of color, and rural healthcare reforms, such as increasing residency slots for rural areas with workforce shortages and loan forgiveness for rural healthcare professionals.

In her words on the ACA: “As someone who fought tooth and nail as Attorney General and as Senator to prevent repeal, that’s exactly what I will continue to do.”

Cory Booker

Senator Cory Anthony Booker, first African-American Senator from New Jersey, and former mayor of Newark, is also a Medicare for All proponent.

He also wants to implement universal paid family and medical leave.

He supports lowering costs for prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices and by importing drugs from Canada and other countries, the latter a policy announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

He would also invest in ending the maternal mortality rate and work to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

One of his big issues is expanding eligibility for long-term services and support for low and middle-income Americans needing care at home. He wants long-term care workers to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour.To limit the impact of the program on state budgets, the new costs associated with the expansion of Medicaid long-term care services and workforce standards would be financed entirely by the federal government in, effectively, a 100% match. The cost would be financed by making the tax code more progressive by reforming the capital gains, estate, and income taxes.

In his words: “Healthcare is a human right.”

Kirsten Gillebrand

Kirsten Gillebrand, U.S. Senator from New York, originally ran for a House seat in that state on a platform that supported the expansion of Medicare, a view she still holds, and in 2017 expressed support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.

In May, Gillebrand reiterated her support, saying the best way to achieve a single-payer system is to let people buy-in over a transition period of about four to five years. She favors allowing a public option to create competition with insurance companies. Medicare needs to be fixed first so that reimbursement rates better reflect costs, she said.

In 2011 she helped pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides treatment to the first responders of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The law provides health monitoring and services for 9/11-related health issues among those exposed to the debris and tainted air of the attack’s aftermath.

In her words: “Under the healthcare system we have now, too many insurance companies continue to value their profits more than they value the people they are supposed to be helping.”

Bill de Blasio

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio believes everyone, including undocumented immigrants, has a right to receive healthcare, and has repeatedly voiced his support for a national single-payer health plan.

He and rival Elizabeth Warren raised their hands during the first debate when asked if they supported Medicare for All.

One of his accomplishments as mayor was signing a bill into law that established a paid sick leave and safe leave plan for the city.

First unveiled in January, the program NYC Care, guarantees healthcare for the roughly 600,000 New Yorkers who aren’t currently insured, which de Blasio touted as the “most comprehensive health system in the nation.” He has indicated that NYC Care could become a model nationwide.

The plan encompasses primary and specialty care, pediatric and maternity care and mental health services. The idea is that NYC Care works on what de Blasio said was a “sliding scale,” in which people can essentially pay what they can for care. While the city already has a public option for healthcare, de Blasio said NYC Care will pay for direct comprehensive care for people who can’t afford insurance or who aren’t covered by Medicaid.

The program costs $100 million per year for the city — an investment the mayor expects will yield returns.

In his words: “If we don’t help people get their healthcare, we’re going to pay plenty on the back end when people get really sick,” he said recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” broadcast.

Jay Inslee

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has planted a flag as “the climate change candidate” and in many ways he’s all in on that single issue, reasoning that things like healthcare policy “become relatively moot if the entire ecosystem collapses on which human life depends.”

That said, he has a strong case to make on healthcare by virtue of having just recently put his state’s money where his fellow candidates’ mouths are: in May he signed the country’s first public option into law in Washington.

Expect him to bring up that accomplishment — in which the state will contract with private insurers to create a public option that pays at Medicare plus 60 percent — in any conversation about healthcare, as he did in the first debate.

In his words: “We hope this will be a smashing success. We hope that it will give a shot of courage to other governors to move forward toward universal access. We were willing to take the leap and we’re gonna learn as we go along, I’m sure, and there will be some modifications. But we had to get started.”

Michael Bennet

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet supports a public option he calls Medicare-X. But where his plan stands apart from others is a strong focus on the rural-urban divide on access to care. He intends to create a healthcare policy that will ensure that all regions of the country are covered by available health plans, addressing what he calls a failure of the ACA exchanges.

His plan is unusually detailed and includes lowering prescription drug prices, closing existing gaps in care, and, yes, promoting telemedicine and other technology that can bolster rural healthcare. He also has provisions for combatting substance abuse, improving maternal and mental health, and bringing more support to senior caregivers.

In his words: “As president, I would build on the Affordable Care Act to cover everyone, rather than doing away with our current system. My Medicare-X plan gives every family the choice to buy an affordable public option or keep the plan they have today. It starts in rural areas, where there is very little competition and requires the federal government to negotiate drug prices. I have fought for this approach for almost a decade, because it is the most effective and fastest way to cover everyone and drive down costs.”

Julián Castro

The former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and San Antonio Mayor favors a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

To pay for the system, Castro has said he would raise taxes on corporations and on the wealthiest Americans — the “0.05, 0.5 or 1%,” he said.

While he favors a single-payer system, Castro said he would allow private insurance, saying that anyone who wants their own private insurance plan should be able to have one.

In his words: Castro said at an event in Iowa that, “The U.S. should be the healthiest nation in the world.”

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York is founder of Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program for recent grads who want to work at a startup and create jobs in American cities.

He supports Medicare for All and has called the Affordable Care Act a step in the right direction that didn’t go far enough because access to medicine isn’t guaranteed and the incentives for healthcare providers don’t align with providing quality, efficient care.

Doctors are incentivized to act as factory workers, he has said, churning through patients and prescribing redundant tests, rather than doing what they’d prefer–spending extra time with each patient to ensure overall health.

Medicare for All will increase access to preventive care, bringing overall healthcare costs down. Cost can also be controlled directly by setting prices provided for medical services.

He cites the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors are paid a flat salary instead of by a price-for-service model. Redundant tests are at a minimum, and physician turnover is much lower than at comparable hospitals, he said.

And the Southcentral Foundation which uses a holistic approach to treat native Alaskans with mental and physical problems by referring patients to psychologists during routine physicals.

Also, the current system of employer-sponsored insurance prevents employees from having economic mobility.

In his words: “New technologies – robots, software, artificial intelligence – have already destroyed more than 4 million U.S. jobs, and in the next 5-10 years, they will eliminate millions more.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is a military veteran who supports Medicare for All as a cosponsor of H.R.676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act.

But she is currently getting press for her lawsuit against Google claiming alleged election interference.

Following the first Democratic primary debate on June 26, many people searched her name, but “without any explanation, Google suspended Tulsi’s Google Ads account,” her office said in a statement, according to The Verge.

Tulsi claims the tech giant suspended her campaign’s Google Ads account just after that first debate.

Congress must act to prevent the tech giant from exerting too much influence, she claimed Monday on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
In her words: “This is really about the unchecked power these big tech monopolies have over our public discourse and how this is a real threat to our freedom of speech and to our fair elections.”

 

A small group of patients account for a whole lot of spending

https://www.axios.com/drug-prices-health-care-costs-spending-employers-63a65abc-0148-4f98-bd39-b30e4d3c9caf.html

Illustration of a $100 bill going into a small pill bottle

A very small group of patients with major illnesses is responsible for an outsized share of health care spending, and new data show that prescription drugs are a big part of the reason their bills are so high.

The big picture: Among people who get their coverage from a large employer, just 1.3% of employees were responsible for almost 20% of overall health spending, averaging a whopping $88,000 per year.

Between the lines: “Persistently high spenders” are people who have accumulated big health care bills for at least 3 consecutive years.

  • They often have HIV, MS, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer and other serious conditions requiring frequent and often costly care.
  • Drugs are lifesavers for these patients, but also big offenders when it comes to costs.

By the numbers: Prescription drugs account for about 40% of this group’s costs, not counting rebates — compared with just 10% for the country as a whole.

  • Their bills just for prescription drugs average out to about $34,000 per year. That’s much more than the average premium for family coverage.

Why it matters: These are exactly the people our insurance system is failing. They have insurance and a major illness, but still struggle with their medical bills as deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs keep rising faster than wages.

One solution might be to exempt this small group of high spenders with serious illnesses from drug or other copays, and limit their deductibles.

  • Congress is also considering proposals to lower the cost of the most expensive drugs, which could make a dent in both employer and employee spending for this population.

The bottom line: I have had family members in the 1.3%.

  • I know from experience as well as the data that we should take care not to sacrifice needed care as we try to reduce spending for this small group of very high spenders with complicated medical needs.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

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

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

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

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

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

THE LARGER TREND

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

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

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

 

The Battle for Health Care

https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/comment/the-health-care-defense?reload=true

The Battle for Health Care

The latest Republican effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act appears likely to reach the Supreme Court in the heat of the 2020 Presidential race.

One of the central questions of the 2020 Presidential campaign was posed last week before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, to a lawyer for the Trump Administration, who didn’t even pretend to have an answer. A three-judge panel was hearing the appeal of a ruling by Reed O’Connor, a Texas district-court judge, that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was unconstitutional in its entirety—an opinion that the Administration has endorsed. O’Connor had ordered that the government cease implementing or enforcing all aspects of the A.C.A., including its protections for people with preëxisting conditions, its ban on lifetime caps, its expansion of Medicaid and coverage for young adults on their parents’ plan, and its support for the treatment of addiction. The order could cost tens of millions of people all or much of their coverage, and throw the health-care system, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, into chaos. But O’Connor, in what Judge Jennifer Elrod, of the Fifth Circuit, described with no apparent irony as a “modest” act, had stayed his own order, pending appeals. Here, now, was the first appeal. So, if the stay is lifted, Elrod asked, “What’s the government planning to do?”

As the lawyer, August Flentje, struggled to answer (“This is a very complicated program—multifaceted, obviously”), it became clear that Republican opposition to the A.C.A. remains a project of blind destruction. One of President Trump’s few health-care initiatives, on drug prices, fell into disarray last week, with one measure defeated in court and another abandoned. Otherwise, he has mostly complained that Democrats want to extend care to, among others, undocumented people. His almost pathological need to undo President Obama’s legacy can be added to the mix; the restraint sometimes said to characterize conservatism can be subtracted. And there is a growing conviction among the A.C.A.’s opponents that the current Supreme Court, given the addition of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, will back them up.

They may be right; the threat that this case, Texas et al. v. United States, presents to Obamacare should not be underestimated, especially as it is likely to reach the Court in the heat of the 2020 campaign. The case was brought by twenty states whose most distinct common quality is their redness. Maine and Wisconsin dropped out of the suit after the 2018 midterm elections, when their Republican governors were replaced by Democrats. When the Trump Administration declined to defend the law, a group of mostly blue states—currently twenty-one—got permission from the district court to do so. They were joined by a lawyer for the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. When Kurt Engelhardt, another of the appeals judges, pointedly asked that lawyer why the Senate hadn’t sent someone to defend the law, he replied that the Senate “operates differently.” It is, after all, led by Mitch McConnell, not Nancy Pelosi.

The complaint concerns the so-called “individual mandate.” When the A.C.A. was enacted, in 2010, it directed every American to get insurance or face a penalty, which was calculated on a sliding scale (and dropped altogether for low-income people; other groups, such as prisoners, were exempt). The constitutionality of the mandate was the subject of an earlier challenge to the A.C.A., but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote an opinion classifying the penalty as a tax, which Congress has the power to levy. Trump’s 2017 tax package, however, reduced the penalty to zero. For the A.C.A.’s opponents, this led to a wild surmise: if the mandate had survived because the penalty was a tax, the absence of a tax might make the mandate unconstitutional. That point might seem academic—constitutional or not, the mandate is, for all practical purposes, already gone, now that there is no penalty for ignoring it. But Texas et al. makes a far more radical claim: The phantom mandate is not only unconstitutional but “inseverable” from the rest of the law. If it is invalid, then all nine hundred and six pages of Obamacare are also invalid.

This argument is as senseless as it is ruinous. It’s like saying that the 2017 tax bill was a stealth total repeal of the A.C.A., something that even leading Republicans denied at the time. And yet at least two of the judges, Elrod and Engelhardt, appeared inclined to accept it. The main issue for them seemed to be just how much of Obamacare to trash.

On that question, too, the Administration has been erratic. Initially, it argued that the court should invalidate only certain provisions, such as preëxisting-condition protections—a major feature that Trump has elsewhere claimed to like. Then, in March, the Administration said that it agreed with the Texas ruling: burn it all. Two months later, though, it argued that, while every word of the law was invalid, any relief that the lower court granted should be limited to damages suffered by Texas and the other states, without defining what those damages might be. This led to utter confusion in the oral arguments: Would there be different versions of the law for different states? Which provisions might the government want to keep? (“You would leave in place the calorie guides?” Judge Elrod asked.) Flentje, the Justice Department’s lawyer, told Elrod that, really, “things don’t need to get sorted out until there’s a final ruling”—that is, from the Supreme Court.

Obamacare has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by twenty million and, while the system is imperfect, premiums are more manageable than is often reported. But, as the Texas case suggests, it can still all be undone. And there is much more to do; the United States has not achieved universal coverage. All the Democratic Presidential front-runners share that goal, but they have what are sometimes sharply diverging proposals for getting there. Vice-President Joseph Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, want to build on the A.C.A. and make Medicare available to all as a public option, alongside private insurance. Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, has a Medicare for All bill that aims to displace private insurance, and in most cases make it unlawful, leaving a public option as the only real option. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have signed on to Sanders’s plan, although Harris has at times tried to downplay the impact on private insurance.

The next Democratic debates, which will be held on July 30th and 31st, may sharpen the candidates’ positions or further polarize them. The Democrats need a plan to protect Americans’ health coverage. And they need a plan to win in 2020. Those might even be the same thing. ♦