Democrats Have No Safe Options On Health Care

Democrats Have No Safe Options On Health Care

Even though most of the candidates have committed to some form of universal health care, the Democratic primary is turning into a debate about the future of the country’s health care system. Presidential hopefuls have proposed policies ranging from an ambitious four-year plan to transform Medicare into a universal single-payer system, in which the government pays for everyone’s health care and private insurance plans are effectively eliminated, to a more modest scheme that would leave the existing health care system intact but create a government-administered public insurance plan people could choose to purchase. But some of the candidates have been light on policy specifics, so it’s likely that health care will be a big topic at the debates and beyond.

In the abstract, focusing on health care makes a lot of political sense for Democrats. It was a top issue among Democratic voters in the 2018 midterms, and the Trump administration recently renewed its efforts to strike down the Affordable Care Act in the courts, which means the law could be hanging in the balance throughout the primaries and into the general election. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll also found that Americans, by a 17-point margin, say that President Trump’s handling of health care makes them more likely to oppose him than to support him in 2020. By a similar margin, an Associated Press/NORC poll found that Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans on health care.

All of this means that Democrats are heading into the 2020 election cycle with a serious edge on an issue that has the potential to mobilize their base. But if the candidates pitch big, sweeping changes to the health care system without addressing voters’ concerns about cost and access, that advantage won’t necessarily hold up. And trying to sell Americans on a completely new system carries risks, even in the primaries.

Why do people care about health care so much?

First, it’s important to understand how health care has morphed over the past decade from just another issue to one of the issues voters care most about. In the 2018 exit polls, 41 percent of voters said health care was the most important issue facing the country, up from 25 percent in 2014 and 18 percent in 2012. (It wasn’t asked about in 2016.) And although Democrats are more likely to prioritize health care than Republicans, a Pew Research Center poll from January found that a majority of Republicans say health care costs should be a top priority for Congress and the president.

The reason? Health care is becoming more of a financial burden, according to Mollyann Brodie, executive director for public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Specifically, Americans’ out-of-pocket health care costs have risen significantly over the past decade, even for workers who get insurance through their jobs. In an economy that by many measures is doing well, health care — rather than something like taxes — is becoming one of voters’ most important pocketbook issues, she said. “If you’re worried about whether you or your loved ones can afford your next health care bill, that’s really a matter of life or death, so you can understand why this issue is moving to center stage politically.”

And Americans are increasingly likely to say that the government has an important role to play in ensuring access to health care. In November, Gallup found that 57 percent of Americans said they think it’s the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has health care coverage, up from a low of 42 percent in 2013. Support for the Affordable Care Act rose over the same period, too. But, notably, support for government intervention in the health care system was even higher before President Obama was elected and the ACA passed — in 2006, 69 percent of Americans thought the government should guarantee health care coverage.

While support for government involvement in health care is rebounding, it’s not clear how much change voters are really asking for. “The average American is first and foremost concerned about the financial problems facing their family,” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. “They’re less worried about system-level concerns like health care spending and inequality. They want their existing coverage to be better and more affordable.”

What do voters want politicians to do?

Americans aren’t opposed to the idea of government-run health care, but there’s not a lot of consensus on what that would mean. For example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans favor a national “Medicare for All” plan. But according to a March Morning Consult poll, Americans are more likely to favor a plan that offers some kind of public option — a government-sponsored health insurance plan available in addition to existing private plans — over a system where everyone is enrolled in the same plan.

But this apparent contradiction makes sense, according to Brodie, because Americans are risk-averse when it comes to health care, and the switch to single-payer would affect far more people than the ACA did. Tens of millions of previously uninsured people received coverage under the ACA, but that number would be dwarfed by the 156 million people who get their insurance through their employers and could see their coverage change if the country switched to a single-payer plan. “Even if the current system isn’t working, transitions are scary,” Brodie said. “And people aren’t necessarily aware of what a national plan really means. When you start telling people that there might not be any more private insurance companies, that’s actually not a popular position.” For example, a January Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that support for a national Medicare for All plan dropped significantly when respondents were told it would mean eliminating private insurance companies.

And when asked what health care policies they want Congress to prioritize, Americans don’t list Medicare for All first. Instead, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, they want Congress to pass targeted measures that would lower prescription drug costs, continue the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions and protect people from surprise medical bills. Only 31 percent of Americans say that implementing Medicare for All should be a top priority for Congress, compared to 68 percent who want lowering drug prices to be a top priority. Moreover, prioritizing Medicare for All is politically polarizing: Only 14 percent of Republicans support putting that kind of plan at the top of the to-do list, compared to 47 percent of Democrats.

Some health care issues get only one-sided support

Share of Republicans and Democrats who say each issue should be a top priority for Congress, and the difference between the parties

Dem. Rep. Diff.
Making sure the ACA’s preexisting condition protections continue 82% 47% D+35
Implementing a national Medicare for All plan 47 14 D+33
Expanding government financial help for those who buy their own insurance coverage on the ACA marketplace to include more people 36 18 D+18
Lowering prescription drug costs for as many Americans as possible 77 66 D+11
Protecting people from surprise high out-of-network medical bills 55 45 D+10
Repealing and replacing the ACA 16 52 R+36

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

However, smaller policy steps like lowering prescription drug costs and protecting people from surprise medical bills get more bipartisan support. Overall, Americans seem to be more concerned with fixing the current health care system than creating a sweeping new replacement — even if that replacement could address the issues they most want fixed in the current system.

What does this mean for the Democrats?

The complexity of Americans’ views on health care doesn’t change the fact that Democrats have a big advantage over Republicans on this issue, but it does mean that the individual candidates are in a tough spot because there’s no obvious unifying message they can adopt for the primary. And embracing a single-payer plan now could hand the GOP a weapon for the general election, allowing Republicans to frame the health care discussion around the Democrats’ controversial plan while glossing over Trump’s efforts to dismantle the ACA.

“The safest bet for a Democrat in the general election is to emphasize Trump’s track record on health care and say you’re going to make the ACA work,” Blendon said. The problem is that while that kind of argument might appeal to moderates, it’s likely to fall flat among a significant sector of the Democratic base that supports prioritizing a national Medicare for All plan over improving and protecting the ACA.

Democrats arguably still have an opening to make a case for a more ambitious health care overhaul, since voters still have relatively little information about what something like Medicare for All means. “It’s fine to support single-payer if you think that’s where the country needs to go, but you can’t just lean on principles like fairness or equality when you’re selling it,” said David Cutler, an economist at Harvard who advised Obama’s campaign on health care strategy. “You also have to tell voters, very specifically, what you are going to do to lower their costs and improve their coverage next year — not in 10 years.”

Even though Americans mostly prefer Democrats’ health care positions to the GOP’s, Democrats still risk alienating voters if they emphasize bumper-sticker slogans over concrete strategies for reducing the financial burden of health care. This is particularly important because their base of support for a single-payer system may be shallower than it appears, even within the party — especially when it comes to getting rid of private insurance. Big changes to the status quo are always politically challenging, but they may be especially risky when many Americans are concerned about losing the protections they already have.

 

 

 

SURVEY SAYS POPULATION HEALTH INITIATIVES ARE STALLING

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/innovation/survey-says-population-health-initiatives-are-stalling

Population health initiatives are stalling

Numerof’s annual report indicates some disturbing trends are emerging in industry’s progress to new models of care. Financial loss, culture, and cancelation of mandatory bundled pricing programs may be to blame.

While healthcare executives agree that population health is essential, most organizations are dragging their feet when it comes to embracing these new models of care, according to The State of Population Health Fourth Annual Numerof Survey Report.

The report, produced by global healthcare consultancy Numerof & Associates in partnership with David B. Nash, MD, MBA, founding dean of the Jefferson College of Population Health at Jefferson in Philadelphia, is based on surveys and interviews conducted with more than 500 C-Suite healthcare executives between August and October 2018.

PROGRESS HAS STALLED

While 94% of respondents agree that population health is the future, and 99% predict that they will have revenue in upside gain/downside risk models in the next two years, the majority of respondents in risk-based agreements report that 10% or less of revenue came through such contracts. Compared to earlier surveys conducted by Numerof, this measure remains flat and fell significantly short of the projections by previous respondents regarding how much revenue would be at risk in 2018.

A Numerof executive posits that the absence of external pressure may be partially responsible for the stall in population health initiatives, but warns that that outside forces may change the game.

“Healthcare delivery organizations may breathe a sigh of relief as policymakers ease the pressure for change, but their comfort should be short-lived, as a slew of nontraditional competitors like Amazon, JPMorgan, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Google and others are on the prowl,” said Michael Abrams, managing partner of Numerof & Associates in the news release. “A $3 trillion industry with a deeply dissatisfied customer base is attracting a wave of innovation from entities that aren’t beholden to the old ways of doing business.”

OTHER KEY FINDINGS

The report also provides other details:

  • Financial loss is the largest barrier to assuming risk. Nearly 25% of respondents cited financial loss as the biggest challenge for adapting to models based on risk. Other roadblocks include challenges related to changing the culture. In addition, policy uncertainty at the federal level also may contribute to hesitancy. “The cancellation of several mandatory bundled pricing programs in favor of voluntary versions has raised questions about the future of value-based care, just as many administrators were beginning to accept it as inevitable,” according to a news release.
  • Smaller organizations are behind. The survey indicates 90% of large hospitals had at least one contract based on risk, compared to the 71% of smaller organizations.
  • Despite some progress, cost and quality management is lacking. When asked about management in cost variation, 61% of respondents rated their organization as average or worse than average. This reflects an improvement of only 8% over three years.

“Healthcare is an industry in transition, but the resistance to necessary change is deeply entrenched,” said Numerof President Rita Numerof, PhD in the release. “Rather than embracing new models that they perceive as risky and difficult to manage, providers are trying to muddle their way through as long as possible.”

METHODOLOGY

Numerof’s fourth annual State of Population Health survey report summarizes online responses gathered between August to October 2018 from more than 500 executives in urban, suburban, and rural locations across the United States. Open-ended interviews with select executives provided deeper insights. Participants include physician group executives and vice presidents, as well as individuals working in U.S. provider organizations including healthcare systems, hospitals, and academic medical centers. Respondents represent a wide range of delivery organizations, including standalone facilities, small systems, and IDNs; for-profit, not-for-profit and government institutions; and academic and community facilities.

 

 

 

Segment 3 – Healthcare Reform Successes & Failures

Segment 3 – Healthcare Reform Successes & Failures

Slide15

In Segment 2, we looked at the history of medical care in the U.S. until 1965, the year Congress enacted Medicare and Medicaid.

In Segment 3 we will look at reform movements, starting with Medicare and Medicaid. We will look at why later reforms failed and where that leaves us now.

By the early 1960s, nearly all employees were covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

But problems emerged. First, low-wage workers were often not covered by their small businesses, and elderly retirees were not covered. Costs were going up because pre-paid insurance increased patient demand for services. Harry Truman had proposed national health insurance after he surprisingly was re-elected in 1948. But the AMA launched a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign to deride the plan as “Communism” and “socialized medicine.” Truman’s public insurance plan failed.

The next attempt at reform was successful – the 1965 passage of Medicare and Medicaid. Lyndon Johnson succeeded because coverage targeted the uninsured poor-and- elderly, leaving the rest of the private for-profit health system unaffected.

Senator Teddy Kennedy tried in 1971 to extend Johnson’s success to build a single-payer system, and won support from President Nixon. But this plan was derailed by the Watergate scandal.

The next attempt came from Bill and Hillary Clinton. After Clinton took office in 1992, Hillary and expert panels devised a plan for universal coverage including essential benefits and pre-existing conditions with mandated employer insurance and expanded Medicaid. This plan failed because the insurance industry launched a stinging publicity campaign featuring a down-home couple named “Harry and Louise.” Americans also balked at the tax increases needed to fund it.

The Clinton’s failure made it necessary to find another solution to rising costs. Managed care, which had first appeared in 1973, became that solution. And it did work, slowing growth to under 6%. But around the year 2000 came a backlash over mammograms and so-called “drive-by” deliveries, which undermined the ability of managed care to control costs.

What do we make of this history? Here are the main take-aways that help us understand our present health system. First, there has always been a tension between the profit motive in the free marketplace and a health promotion motive. Second, Americans have given special treatments to the health industry in return for medical advances. And third, powerful vested interests (doctors, hospitals, insurance, drug companies) have often used polemics and ideological arguments to defend their favored status, not necessarily actual health outcome data.

Slide09

So, this leaves the US with the largest, most expensive healthcare system in the world. In 2011 shown here it took in payments of 2.7 trillion dollars, mostly private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and out-of-pocket. The figure for 2015 was 3.2 trillion dollars, representing 1/6 of the entire economy of the entire Gross Domestic Product. Government’s share of payments was almost 50% in 2016.

Slide10

This graph shows the dollars spent in 2011 – mostly on hospitals, doctors, drugs, long-term care. Remember that 25% of this pie graph actually goes to administrative costs, not medical services.

Slide11

In defense of U.S. healthcare, in 2012 then-House-Speaker John Boehner and then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said, “the U.S. has the finest health care system in the world,” and further that “wealthy foreigners flock to the U.S. because of its cutting edge facilities.”

2017-10-13-boehner-mcconnell.png

However, the World Health Organization rates the U.S. 15th in performance (life expectancy and delays in care), and only 37th in overall attainment (including financial and service fairness).

In 2015 the Kaiser Foundation compared the US with 10 other developed countries. Here are their results showing areas in which US is better, equal or lacking.

Here are the Commonwealth Fund’s 20-11 rankings – US is in the middle of the pack for most areas but dead last on several others and overall rank.

Slide14Source: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2014/jun/mirror-mirror

What about “foreigners flocking-for-care”? This pertains to highly specialized treatments available only in certain centers such as Mayo, Cleveland Clinic or Hopkins. Some centers in Florida and Texas do market to wealthy foreigners, who pay the full charge in cash, not discounted insurance rates like the rest or us. Boehner and McConnell pointed to Canadians coming to Michigan hospitals, but the Commonwealth study found that Canada is worst in timeliness and 10th worst overall, just ahead of the US in 11th place, so not surprising.

The further truth is that, according to Centers for Disease Control, 3/4 million Americans go abroad each year for medical treatments, such as for holistic care or dental care, but mostly seeking lower cost.

In the next Segment we will talk about cost, namely how the rising cost of healthcare is affecting our economy, our politics, our society – and some say our very existence.

I’ll see you then.