Supreme Court denies blue states’ effort to expedite ObamaCare challenge

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/479116-supreme-court-denies-blue-states-effort-to-expedite-obamacare-challenge?userid=12325

Supreme Court denies blue states' effort to expedite ObamaCare challenge

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an effort by Democrats to expedite a challenge to a lower court’s ruling striking down a key tenet of ObamaCare, narrowing the possibility that the court takes up the contentious case this year.

The House of Representatives and a group of blue states had asked the court to fast-track their appeal after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional.

“Under the current state of affairs, there is considerable doubt over whether millions of individuals will continue to be able to afford vitally important care,” the House wrote in a court filing earlier this month.

“Millions of individuals will live with the insecurity of not knowing that they have access to affordable health care, and will be forced to make important life decisions without knowing how those decisions will affect their continued access to such care.”

“If the Court does not hear the case this Term, that uncertainty will likely persist through next year’s open enrollment period,” the House wrote.

Tuesday’s order makes it unlikely that the high court will rule on the health care law before the November presidential election, where health insurance policy is sure to play a prominent role.

The 5th Circuit’s ruling delivered a victory for the coalition of conservative state attorneys general challenging the Obama administration’s signature achievement.

The Trump administration has declined to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, and the president has cheered on legal efforts to dismantle it.

“This decision will not alter the current healthcare system,” President Trump said in a statement last month. “My Administration continues to work to provide access to high-quality healthcare at a price you can afford, while strongly protecting those with pre-existing conditions. The radical healthcare changes being proposed by the far left would strip Americans of their current coverage. I will not let this happen.”

It’s still unclear whether the Supreme Court will decide to hear the challenge to the 5th Circuit ruling. Now that the justices have chosen to adhere to a normal briefing schedule, that decision will likely not come until March at the earliest.

 

 

 

Hospitals, insurers urge Supreme Court to hear ACA case to avert havoc

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospitals-insurers-urge-supreme-court-to-hear-aca-case-to-avert-havoc/570525/

Dive Brief:

  • The main lobbying groups for both the hospital and insurance industries filed amicus briefs Wednesday urging the Supreme Court to take on the controversial case seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
  • By sending the key question in the case back down to the lower court for a “do-over,” the appellate court’s ruling “casts a long shadow of uncertainty over ACA-based investments,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in its brief.
  • Various hospital lobbying groups argued the case creates enormous uncertainty for industry, raising questions about whether they should continue to invest in the provisions that are so closely intertwined with the ACA, according to their brief.

Dive Insight:

Two courts have so far ruled against the landmark health law, finding that the individual mandate is unconstitutional because Congress stripped away the financial penalty for forgoing insurance coverage.

Without the financial penalty attached, the so-called individual mandate can no longer be considered a tax and is therefore unconstitutional, according to the courts. A lower court went even further than the appellate court and found that the entire law must fall because the mandate cannot be severed from the remainder of the ACA.

The appellate court avoided answering this key question regarding severability and sent it back to the lower court for additional analysis. The appellate court ruling generated outcry from industry, which argues the case will take years to wind its way through the courts leaving a cloud of uncertainty in its wake.

The ACA fundamentally reshaped the nation’s healthcare system and is credited with lowering the ranks of the uninsured by millions.

A coalition of blue states that stepped in to defend the law petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and asked for an expedited review. Meanwhile, a group of red states looking to overturn the law has argued the case does not merit intervention from the high court.

After failed attempts by Republicans in Congress to kill the law entirely, in 2017 Congress cut the penalty for not having insurance coverage to zero in a unrelated tax bill. The red states and two individual plaintiffs from Texas have argued the move renders the law unconstitutional.

AHIP argues that the ACA can stand without the penalty (and has) since Congress’ changes in 2017.

“Congress has unmistakably indicated through its actions: that the ACA should continue in operation even in the absence of the individual mandate,” AHIP said in its brief, arguing a repeal of the law would “wreak havoc” on the nation’s healthcare system.

Other advocacy groups, including AARP, American Cancer Society and Small Business Majority filed separate briefs urging the Supreme Court to take on the case. A group of bipartisan economic scholars also submitted a brief in support of the Supreme Court taking on the case.

 

 

 

 

Kansas has reached a deal to expand Medicaid, covering 150,000 people

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/1/9/21058531/kansas-medicaid-expansion-obamacare-trump

Image result for welcome to kansas sign

It looks like Kansas will become the 37th state to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, the latest breakthrough in more conservative territory for the health care law.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, a moderate elected in 2018 in the anti-Trump wave driven largely by health care, and Sen. Jim Denning, the Republican leader of the state Senate announced Thursday that they had reached a deal on Medicaid expansion.

Under Obamacare, states can expand coverage to anybody with an income 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less (about $17,000 for an individual or $29,000 for a family of three) and receive a generous federal funding match.

Between 130,000 and 150,000 people are expected to be covered by Medicaid expansion in Kansas, mostly adults without children or parents currently ineligible for benefits despite living in or near poverty. Roughly 9 percent of Kansans are uninsured.

According to the AP, the agreement between Kelly and Denning includes a provision for state support to reduce private insurance premiums, to prevent people eligible for Medicaid expansion from leaving their current private plan (if they have one) to join the public program:

Denning had proposed financing his new program by increasing tobacco taxes, including a $1-per-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax, to $2.29. His compromise with Kelly gives the state a year to develop the premium-reduction program and drops the tax increase, which Kelly and many lawmakers thought wasn’t likely to pass anyway.

It’s a relatively small concession for Republican support. An estimated 50,000 people would be expected to make the switch. The compromise notably does not include work requirements, which some other GOP-led states have sought (though they are on hold in the courts) as a condition of expansion. There will also be small premiums (about $25 a month), a provision approved in other Republican-leaning states looking to expand.

In some ways, Medicaid expansion has proven the most important part of Obamacare, covering 20 million or so people, but it has yet to reach its full potential. That’s because the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states must have the option to refuse to expand the program, and many Republican-led states have. About 2.5 million people, half of them in Texas and Florida, don’t have health coverage because their state has blocked Medicaid expansion.

But the number of non-expanding states has shrunk over the years, with a number of Republican states unable to refuse the ACA’s deal of more federal funding and more people with insurance. Even Vice President Mike Pence had cut a deal as governor with President Obama to expand Medicaid in Indiana. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah have approved Medicaid expansion at the ballot box in the last few years.

Now Kansas looks like it will join the expansion ranks. Previous attempts to expand Medicaid ran up against the veto pen of a GOP governor. But Kelly’s election changed the situation.

Its decision is also a small act of defiance: Even as 20 red states and the Trump administration fight to overturn Obamacare in the courts, government leaders in Kansas are pushing to expand the law’s reach in their state to cover more people. Though the ideological battle over the law isn’t totally over, in practice, its reach is only growing.

 

 

 

New York State Investigates Christian Health Cost-Sharing Affiliate

Image result for New York State Investigates Christian Health Cost-Sharing Affiliate

Subpoenas have been issued to a company that solicits memberships for a health insurance alternative that offers no guarantees for covering medical bills.

New York State officials are investigating a business representing a major Christian group offering an alternative to health insurance, joining several states scrutinizing these cost-sharing programs that provide limited coverage.

On Wednesday, New York state insurance regulators issued a subpoena to Aliera, which markets the Christian ministry run by Trinity Healthshare, according to people who have seen the subpoena.

More than one million Americans have joined such groups, attracted by prices that are far lower than the cost of traditional insurance policies that must meet strict requirements established by the Affordable Care Act, like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions.

 

These Christian nonprofit groups offer low rates because they are not classified as insurance and are under no legal obligation to pay medical claims. But state regulators are questioning some of the ministries’ aggressive marketing tactics, saying some consumers were misled or did not grasp the lack of comprehensive coverage in the case of a catastrophic illness.

Some members have paid hundreds of dollars a month, and then have been left with hundreds of thousands in unpaid medical bills in several states where the ministries, which are not subject to regulation as insurers, failed to follow through on pooling members’ expenses.

Numerous states are taking action against Aliera Healthcare, the for-profit company based in Georgia that was been the subject of an investigation by The Houston Chronicle. The Texas attorney general sued Aliera last summer to stop it from offering “unregulated insurance products to the public,” while Connecticut, Washington and New Hampshire are trying to stop Trinity and Aliera from doing business in those states.

Regulators say they are concerned that the ministry is, in fact, operating as an insurer. In New York, which has not previously investigated any ministries, there have been 15 to 20 complaints, including accusations that Aliera misrepresented the coverage being offered. It’s not clear how many customers Aliera has in New York.

“It’s deeply disappointing to see state regulators working to deny their residents access to more affordable alternatives offered by health care sharing ministries,” said Aliera in an emailed statement.

“We’re proud of the work we do to help ministries provide a more flexible method for securing affordable high-quality health care, and we will continue to vigorously defend against the false claims about our company, just as we expect the health care sharing ministries we serve to vigorously defend their members’ right to exercise their religious convictions in making health care choices,” it said.

Trinity, which was not subject to the subpoena, has said its website makes clear that the ministry does not offer health insurance.

 

 

 

The most expensive health care option of all? Do nothing.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/09/medicare-for-all-health-care-096367?utm_source=The+Fiscal+Times&utm_campaign=b67cf54986-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_09_10_31&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_714147a9cf-b67cf54986-390702969

Image result for healthcare policy

‘Medicare for all’ debate sidesteps cost of current system.

The projected multitrillion-dollar cost of “Medicare for All” has pitted Democratic presidential candidates against each other as they argue about the feasibility of single-payer health care.

But the reality is the current health system may cost trillions more in the long run and be less effective in saving lives.

Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses is projected to hit $6 trillion a year — and $52 trillion over the next decade. At the same time, the number of people with insurance is dropping and Americans are dying younger.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and other single-payer advocates say Medicare for All would cost the government far less — between $20 trillion and $36 trillion over a decade — by slashing overhead, eliminating out-of-pocket costs and empowering federal officials to bargain directly with hospitals and drugmakers. But the streamlined system would have to care for millions of currently uninsured people at a significant cost to taxpayers, and experts disagree whether it would actually save money in the long run.

Centrist Democrats are pushing narrower plans that would, among other things, expand tax credits for people just above the Obamacare subsidy threshold. Virtually no one is arguing for maintaining the status quo, but that’s precisely what could happen given that congressional gridlock has stymied even popular, and bipartisan, causes like halting surprise medical bills.

“It’s really hard to see anything breaking through, especially when the industry interests and the money they’re willing to spend on lobbying and campaign contributions is just mind-boggling,” said Sabrina Corlette, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “And, without question, we are on an unsustainable trajectory.”

With Medicare for All and its price tag likely to come up in the next Democratic debate Jan. 14 in Iowa, here are five of the costliest consequences of inaction:

National health spending keeps rising

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that nationwide health spending will hit $6 trillion a year by 2027 absent any changes in law. That would be nearly a fifth of the economy. In total, the United States is slated to spend about $52 trillion over the coming decade.

The cost drivers include hospitals, physician and clinical services and prescription drugs. Some local health systems have become monopolies that can largely set prices as they please — leading to higher premiums and more out-of-pocket spending for consumers.

“Even the biggest insurance plans are not big enough to bargain down the cost of services, and they don’t have an incentive to,” said Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive-turned whistleblower and single-payer advocate.

An aging population is driving up Medicare spending, but the rising cost of private insurance is the biggest factor. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found per capita spending for private insurance grew by nearly 53 percent over the last decade, or more than double the hike in per capita Medicare spending.

More people will be uninsured

The Census Bureau reported in September that the number of Americans without insurance grew by 2 million people since 2017 — the first increase in nearly a decade. Even with a healthy economy and low unemployment, more than 27 million people weren’t covered at any point last year. That could grow to 35 million by 2029, per the Congressional Budget Office, under current law.

The number of people enrolling in the Obamacare marketplace has declined, and more people are dropping employer-sponsored insurance due to cost and other concerns.

Part of this is President Donald Trump’s doing — the administration has slashed efforts to push Obamacare enrollment and rolled back the massive marketing effort that the Obama administration rolled out for years.

There are also more than 400,000 additional uninsured children than just two years ago — and 4 million in all — and states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are seeing the biggest spikes.

“What we also miss in the debate is the number of people temporarily uninsured, who miss open enrollment, who are between jobs, who fall through the cracks,” said Adam Gaffney, a Harvard Medical School researcher and the president of Physicians for a National Health Program. “I see people all the time in my practice in that situation who don’t fill prescriptions and experience serious complications.”

Going without insurance hits patients and health care providers: Average hospital spending on care for the uninsured was $13 million in 2018 up roughly 3 percent annually since 2016.

Coverage will be skimpier

As the cost of health care has skyrocketed, insurance companies have squeezed patients, charging higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and creating narrow networks of providers and aggressively billing for out-of-network care.

Since 2009, the amount workers have had to pay for health insurance has increased 71 percent, while wages have only risen 26 percent over that time.

More than 80 percent of workers now have to pay a minimum amount out of pocket before insurance kicks in — and the amount of that deductible has doubled over the last 10 years, now standing at an average of $1,655, though many workers have to pay a lot more.

These costs are putting care out of reach for millions.

new Gallup poll found that a full quarter of adults have put off treatment for a serious medical condition due to the cost — the highest since Gallup began asking the question three decades ago. A full third say they’ve delayed or deferred some kind of health care service over the past year. Another Gallup and West Help survey found that 34 million people know at least one friend or family member who died over the past five years after skipping treatment due to costs.

 

Needed drugs will become more out of reach

U.S. patients pay vastly more for prescription drugs than people in other developed countries and the disparity is set to grow. The United States spent $1,443 per person on prescription drugs in 2018, while other developed countries fell somewhere between $466 and $939.

In just five years, national spending on prescription drugs increased 25 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, and CMS expects that increase to “accelerate” over the next several years.

Increasingly, patients are responding by forgoing their medications. Gallup found in November that nearly 23 percent of adults — roughly 58 million people — said they haven’t been able to “pay for needed medicine or drugs that a doctor prescribed” over the past year.

This widespread inability to take needed medication, a government-funded study found last year, is responsible for as much as 10 percent of hospital admissions. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that medication nonadherence accounts for somewhere between $100 and $300 billion in national health spending every year.

 

Americans will continue to get sicker and die younger

The cost of maintaining the status quo is evident not only in dollars but in human lives.

Life expectancy in the United States has declined over the last three years, even as other developed countries around the world saw improvements.

Though the United States spends nearly twice as much on health care as other high-income countries, there’s been a stark increase in mortality between the ages of 19 and 64, with drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicide and organ diseases driving the trend. It’s cut across race and gender with the worst effects felt in rural areas.

The opioid epidemic only accounts for a fraction of the problem. The National Research Council found that the United States has higher mortality rates from most major causes of death than 16 other high-income countries.

Researchers at USC estimate that if these trends continue, it would take the United States more than a century to reach the average life expectancy levels other countries hit in 2016.

 

 

Health Care in 2019: Year in Review

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/health-care-2019-year-review

Health care was front and center for policymakers and the American public in 2019. An appeals court delivered a decision on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate. In the Democratic primaries, almost all the presidential candidates talked about health reform — some seeking to build on the ACA, others proposing to radically transform the health system. While the ACA remains the law of the land, the current administration continues to take executive actions that erode coverage and other gains. In Congress, we witnessed much legislative activity around surprise bills and drug costs. Meanwhile, far from Washington, D.C., the tech giants in Silicon Valley are crashing the health care party with promised digital transformations. If you missed any of these big developments, here’s a short overview.

 

1. A decision from appeals court on the future of the ACA: On December 18, an appeals court struck down the ACA’s individual mandate in Texas v. United States, a suit brought by Texas and 17 other states. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the ACA in its entirety, but sent it back to a lower court. Last December, that court ruled the ACA unconstitutional based on Congress repealing the financial penalty associated with the mandate. The case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the timing of the SCOTUS ruling is uncertain, leaving the future of the ACA hanging in the balance once again.

 

2. Democratic candidates propose health reform options: From a set of incremental improvements to the ACA to a single-payer plan like Medicare for All, every Democratic candidate who is serious about running for president has something to say about health care. Although these plans vary widely, they all expand the number of Americans with health insurance, and some manage to reduce health spending at the same time.

 

3. Rise in uninsured: Gains in coverage under the ACA appear to be stalling. In 2018, an estimated 30.4 million people were uninsured, up from a low of 28.6 million in 2016, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund survey. Nearly half of uninsured adults may have been eligible for subsidized insurance through ACA marketplaces or their state’s expanded Medicaid programs.

 

4. Changes to Medicaid: States continue to look for ways to alter their Medicaid programs, some seeking to impose requirements for people to work or participate in other qualifying activities to receive coverage. In Arkansas, the only state to implement work requirements, more than 17,000 people lost their Medicaid coverage in just three months. A federal judge has halted the program in Arkansas. Other states are still applying for waivers; none are currently implementing work requirements.

 

5. Public charge rule: The administration’s public charge rule, which deems legal immigrants who are not yet citizens as “public charges” if they receive government assistance, is discouraging some legal immigrants from using public services like Medicaid. The rule impacts not only immigrants, but their children or other family members who may be citizens. DHS estimated that 77,000 could lose Medicaid or choose not to enroll. The public charge rule may be contributing to a dramatic recent increase in the number of uninsured children in the U.S.

 

6. Open enrollment numbers: As of the seventh week of open enrollment, 8.3 million people bought health insurance for 2020 on HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace. Taking into account that Nevada transitioned to a state-based exchange, and Maine and Virginia expanded Medicaid, this is roughly equivalent to 2019 enrollment. In spite of the Trump administration’s support of alternative health plans, like short-term plans with limited coverage, more new people signed up for coverage in 2020 than in the previous year. As we await final numbers — which will be released in March — it is also worth noting that enrollment was extended until December 18 because consumers experienced issues on the website. In addition, state-based marketplaces have not yet reported; many have longer enrollment periods than the federal marketplace.

 

7. Outrage over surprise bills: Public outrage swelled this year over unexpected medical bills, which may occur when a patient is treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. These bills can run into tens of thousands of dollars, causing crippling financial problems. Congress is searching for a bipartisan solution but negotiations have been complicated by fierce lobbying from stakeholders, including private equity companies. These firms have bought up undersupplied specialty physician practices and come to rely on surprise bills to swell their revenues.

 

8. Employer health care coverage becomes more expensive: Roughly half the U.S. population gets health coverage through their employers. While employers and employees share the cost of this coverage, the average annual growth in the combined cost of employees’ contributions to premiums and their deductibles outpaced growth in U.S. median income between 2008 and 2018 in every state. This is because employers are passing along a larger proportion to employees, which means that people are incurring higher out-of-pocket expenses. Sluggish wage growth has also exacerbated the problem.

 

9. Tech companies continue inroads into health care: We are at the dawn of a new era in which technology companies may become critical players in the health care system. The management and use of health data to add value to common health care services is a prime example. Recently, Ascension, a huge national health system, reached an agreement with Google to store clinical data on 50 million patients in the tech giant’s cloud. But the devil is in the details, and tech companies and their provider clients are finding themselves enmeshed in a fierce debate over privacy, ownership, and control of health data.

 

10. House passes drug-cost legislation: For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive drug-cost-control legislation, H.R. 3. Reflecting the public’s distress over high drug prices, the legislation would require that the government negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs in Medicare, limit drug manufacturers’ ability to annually hike prices in Medicare, and place the first-ever cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. This development is historic but unlikely to result in immediate change. Its prospects in the Republican–controlled Senate are dim.

 

 

 

A look at what lies under the (high) deductible

https://mailchi.mp/f3434dd2ba5d/the-weekly-gist-december-20-2019?e=d1e747d2d8

 

With the continued growth in high deductible health plans (HDHPs) in both employer- and exchange-based insurance markets, a larger number of services are falling “under the deductible”, leaving patients responsible for the full cost of care

The graphic above illustrates the national cost ranges of ten common outpatient services, based on data from a publicly-available commercial claims databaseIt’s not just minor services like lab tests or diagnostic imaging that are falling under the deductible—many consumers are now paying full freight for a growing list of outpatient procedures like cataract or carpal tunnel surgery, or even knee arthroscopy.

Shopping can pay off: for any service, the highest-priced provider can be over three times the lowest-priced, translating into thousands of dollars of savings for patients with high-deductible plans.

Outpatient services now account for over half the revenue of many health systems. As deductibles climb, more and more of the (profitable) health system services are becoming “shoppable” for consumers—creating an imperative for systems to both lower costs and pursue rational pricing as scrutiny becomes more intense.