1 big thing: Everything will be a fight

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-d6671137-65fb-49a1-a603-d7e53ab977de.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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Insurers and hospitals came out swinging yesterday against Democrats’ proposal to let people older than 50 buy into Medicare — a reminder that almost any expansion of public health coverage will provoke a battle with the health care industry.

Between the lines: Politically, an age-restricted Medicare buy-in is about as moderate as it gets for Democrats in the age of “Medicare for All.”

  • It is not a proposal for universal coverage, and it’s a far cry from trying to eliminate private insurance. It would be optional, only a relatively small slice of people would have the option, and they would need to pay a monthly premium.

Yes, but: Being on the more moderate end of the political spectrum does not shield you from a fight.

  • Expanding Medicare would hurt hospitals’ bottom lines, because Medicare pays hospitals less than private insurance does.
  • That’s why the Federation of American Hospitals said yesterday that the idea “would harm more Americans than it would help.”
  • The buy-in plan would primarily compete with employer-based health coverage (that’s what people between 50 and 65 are likely to have). And America’s Health Insurance Plans said the idea “is a slippery slope to government-run health care for every American.”

The bottom line: Any proposal that would compete with (never mind eliminate) private coverage, particularly employer coverage, will meet this kind of resistance.

That’s why Medicaid is the public program Democrats and industry can agree to love. Expanded access to Medicaid has rarely been an alternative to commercial insurance — it’s usually an alternative to being uninsured.

  • The uninsured were the primary beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, and the Medicaid buy-in proposals now popping in the states are aimed at the people who are most likely to be foregoing private ACA coverage because of its cost.

 

 

 

Kamala Harris’ ‘Medicare for all’ would mean massive disruption for healthcare, and the industry is prepared to fight it

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/healthcare/kamala-harris-medicare-for-all-would-mean-massive-disruption-for-healthcare-and-the-industry-is-prepared-to-fight-it

Image result for Kamala Harris' 'Medicare for all' would mean massive disruption for healthcare, and the industry is prepared to fight it

Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris wants to “move on” from the current healthcare system in favor of a plan that would roll everyone in the U.S. onto a government plan known as “Medicare for all,” doing away with private health insurance.

As the California Democrat and others in her party make their case, however, they will face considerable opposition not only in the insurance industry, but across the healthcare sector, which would see massive upheaval from the plan. And polling suggests that the public, roughly half of which relies on private insurance, isn’t quite on board.

Drug companies, insurers, doctors, and hospitals have united in recent months to fight national government healthcare. One healthcare industry group, called the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, has launched a five-figure digital ad campaign arguing that “Medicare for all” would cause massive disruption, higher taxes, lower quality care, and less choice for patients. It plans to spend six figures bashing “Medicare for all” over the course of 2019.

“Whether it’s called Medicare for all, single payer, or a public option, one-size-fits-all healthcare will mean all Americans have less choice and control over the doctors, treatments, and coverage,” said Lauren Crawford Shaver, the group’s executive director.

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are, like Harris, co-sponsors of the Medicare for All Act, legislation led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Although it has “Medicare” in the name, the bill would go much further than current Medicare, which covers adults 65 and older and people with disabilities. It would pay for emergency surgery, prescription drugs, mental healthcare, and eye care without a copay.

Children would be enrolled in the government plan soon after the the bill’s passage, and the rest would be gradually phased in after four years. This would mean that roughly half of the U.S. population, the 177 million people in the U.S. covered by private health insurance mostly through work, would be moved onto a government plan. Employers would pay higher taxes rather than pay for private plans.

In defending the need for a government system, Sanders has blasted insurance companies, saying upon unveiling the bill that they “make billions of dollars in profits and make industry CEOs extremely wealthy.”

But healthcare providers, not just insurers, benefit from the current fragmented system, in which insurance is purchased by employers, the government, and individuals. They charge private insurers more to make up for the gap left by patients who are uninsured or are on government programs, which pay less for their services.

If all privately insured individuals were to have Medicare instead, and if it were to pay the same rates it does now, then doctors and hospitals would see big losses caring for patients who moved from private coverage to the government plan. Healthcare providers have said that if taxes don’t go up to pay for the difference, then doctors and hospitals will face pay cuts and layoffs, leading to facility closures and long lines for care.

Hospitals serve as the main employer in many communities. For patients, that would mean losing not only a healthcare plan they might be satisfied with, but also doctors they worked with for years or hospitals they relied on in their communities.

The Medicare for All Act has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, but analyses from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the left-leaning Urban Institute found it would raise government spending over a decade by $32.6 trillion.

Overall healthcare spending, though, would actually fall by $2 trillion, as private spending on healthcare would collapse. The cut would be achieved, however, through paying 40 percent less to providers than what they were getting from private insurance.

Another obstacle to “Medicare for all” is the fact that the public isn’t fully convinced by the idea of nixing private insurance, a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. Initially, 56 percent of those polled favored the Medicare for All Act, but then when they learned it would do away with private health insurance, the support fell to 37 percent.

Candidates are going to face pushback within their party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have not embraced government healthcare, instead pushing for adding funding to Obamacare.

But proponents of allowing the government to have a more extensive role in healthcare point out that waste is prevalent in the current system. Patients receive unnecessary medical care, such as repeated tests or surgeries that either don’t make them healthier or even make them worse.

These proponents agree with Harris that health insurance companies are unnecessary. Wendell Potter, an advocate of a government-financed healthcare system and president of the Business Initiative for Health Policy, said in a statement that polling results show the healthcare industry’s misinformation campaign to spread “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” was effective. He said that commercial health insurance companies don’t have an incentive to lower healthcare costs and make sure patients can access care.

Potter, a former health insurance executive, described how the information campaign worked, saying the goal was to “make people believe that private health insurance companies were a necessary part of the healthcare system, and to scare them into thinking that a ‘Medicare for all’ system was expensive and impractical, and that it would cause a significant drop off in the quality of care.”

 

 

 

 

Short-Term Health Plans Hold Savings For Consumers, Profits For Brokers And Insurers

https://www.thelundreport.org/content/short-term-health-plans-hold-savings-consumers-profits-brokers-and-insurers?mc_cid=87537ae734&mc_eid=1d14ffb322

Sure, they’re less expensive for consumers, but short-term health policies have another side: They’re highly profitable for insurers and offer hefty sales commissions.

Driven by rising premiums for Affordable Care Act plans, interest in short-term insurance is growing, boosted by Trump administration actions to ease Obama-era restrictions and possibly make federal subsidies available to consumers to purchase them.

That’s good news for brokers, who often see commissions on such policies hit 20 percent or more.

On a policy costing $200 a month, for example, that could translate to a $40 payment each month. By contrast, ACA plan commissions, which are often flat dollar amounts rather than a percentage of premium, can range from zero to $20 per enrollee per month.

“Customers are paying less and I’m making more,” said Cindy Holtzman, a broker in Woodstock, Ga., who said she gets 20 percent on short-term plan commissions.

Large online brokers also are eagerly eyeing the market.

Ehealth, one such firm, will “continue to shift our focus to selling short-term plans and non-ACA insurance packages,” CEO Scott Flanders told investors in October. The firm saw an 18 percent annual jump in enrollment in short-term plans this year, he added.

Insurers, too, see strong profits from plans because they generally pay out very little toward medical care when compared with the more comprehensive ACA plans.

Still, some agents like Holtzman have mixed feelings about selling the plans, because they offer skimpier coverage than ACA insurance. One 58-year-old client of Holtzman’s wanted one, but he had health problems. She also learned his income qualified him for an ACA subsidy, which currently cannot be used to purchase short-term coverage.

“There’s no way I would have considered a short-term plan for him,” she said. “I found him an ACA plan for $360 a month with a reduced deductible.” (A federal district court judge in Texas issued a ruling Dec. 14 striking down the ACA, which would among other things impact the requirements of ACA coverage and subsidies. The decision is expected to face appeal.)

Short-term plans can be far less expensive than ACA plans because they set annual or lifetime payment limits. Most exclude people with medical conditions, they often don’t cover prescription drugs, and policies exclude in fine print some conditions or treatments. Injuries sustained in school sports programs, for example, often are not covered. (These plans can be purchased at any time throughout the year, which is different than plans sold through the federal marketplaces. The open enrollment period for those ACA plans in most states ends Dec. 15.)

Consequently, insurers providing short-term plans don’t have to pay as many medical bills, so they have more money left over for profits. In forms filed with state regulators, Independence American Insurance Co. in Ohio shows it expects 60 percent of its premium revenue to be spent on its enrollees’ medical care. The remaining 40 percent can go to profits, executive salaries, marketing and commissions.

A 2016 report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners showed that, on average, short-term plans paid out about 67 percent of their earnings on medical care.

That compares with ACA plans, which are required under the law to spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on medical claims.

Short-term plans have long been sold mainly as a stopgap measure for people between jobs or school coverage. While exact figures are not available, brokers say interest dropped when the ACA took effect in 2014 because many people got subsidies to buy ACA plans and having a short-term plan did not exempt consumers from the law’s penalty for not carrying insurance.

But this year it ticked up again after Congress eliminated the penalty for 2019 coverage. At the same time, the premiums for ACA plans rose on average more than 30 percent.

“If I don’t want someone to walk out of the office with nothing at all because of cost, that’s when I will bring up short-term plans,” said Kelly Rector, president of Denny & Associates, an insurance sales brokerage in O’Fallon, a suburb of St. Louis. “But I don’t love the plans because of the risk.”

The Obama administration limited short-term plans to 90-day increments to reduce the number of younger or healthier people who would leave the ACA market. That rule, the Trump administration complained, forced people to reapply every few months and risk rejection by insurers if their health had declined.

This summer, the administration finalized new rules allowing insurers to offer short-term plans for up to 12 months — and gave them the option to allow renewals for up to three years. States can be more restrictive or even bar such plans altogether.

Administration officials estimate short-term plans could be half the cost of the more comprehensive ACA insurance and draw 600,000 people to enroll in 2019, with 100,000 to 200,000 of those dropping ACA coverage to do so.

And recent guidance to states says they could seek permission to allow federal subsidies to be used for short-term plans. Currently, those subsidies apply only to ACA-compliant plans.

Granting subsidies for short-term plans “would mean tax dollars are not only subsidizing commissions, but also executive salaries and marketing budgets,” said Sabrina Corlette of Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

No state has yet applied to do that.

For now, brokers are focusing on getting their clients into some kind of coverage for next year. Commissions on both ACA and short-term plans are getting their attention.

After several years of declining commissions for ACA plans — with some carriers cutting them altogether a couple of years ago — brokers say they are seeing a bit of a rebound.

Among Colorado ACA insurers, “it’s gone from about $14 to $16 per enrollee [a month] to $16 to $18,” said Louise Norris, a health policy writer and co-owner of an insurance brokerage.

Rector, in Missouri, said an insurer that last year paid no commissions has reinstated them for 2019 coverage. For her, that doesn’t really matter, she said, because once carriers started reducing or eliminating commissions, she began charging clients a flat rate to enroll.

Norris noted that some states changed their laws so brokers could do just that.

At least one state, Connecticut, ruled that insurers had to pay a commission, which she thinks is protective for consumers.

“Insurance regulators need to step in and make sure brokers are getting paid,” said Norris, or some brokers, “out of necessity,” might steer people to higher-commission products, such as short-term plans, that might not be the best answer for their clients.

Her agency does not sell short-term or some other types of limited-benefit plans.

“I don’t want to have a client come back and say I’ve had a heart attack and have all these unpaid bills,” she said.

 

 

 

The impossibility of bipartisan health-care compromise

https://theweek.com/articles/811962/impossibility-bipartisan-healthcare-compromise

People yelling at each other.

If there’s one thing political centrists claim to value, it’s compromise. It’s “the way Washington is supposed to work,” writes Third Way’s Bill Schneider. “Centrists, or moderates, are really people who are willing to compromise,” The Moderate Voice‘s Robert Levine tells Vice.

What does this mean when it comes to health care and the developing lefty push for Medicare-for-all? The fresh new centrist health-care organization, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), says it is a “diverse, patient-focused coalition committed to pragmatic solutions to strengthen our nation’s health-care system.” In keeping with the moderate #brand, PAHCF may not support Medicare-for-all. But perhaps they might support a quarter-measure compromise, like allowing people under 65 to buy into Medicare?

Haha, of course not. Their offer is this: nothing.

Valuing compromise in itself in politics is actually a rather strange notion. It would make a lot more sense to determine the optimal policy structure through some kind of moral reasoning, and then work to obtain an outcome as close as possible to that. Compromise is necessary because of the anachronistic (and visibly malfunctioning) American constitutional system, but it is only good insofar as it avoids a breakdown of democratic functioning that would be even worse.

However, “moderation” is routinely not even that, but instead a cynical veneer over raw privilege and self-interest. The American health-care system, as I have written on many occasions, is a titanic maelstrom of waste, fraud, and outright predation — ripping off the American people to the tune of $1 trillion annually.

And so, Adam Cancryn reports on the centrist Democrats plotting with Big Medical to strangle the Medicare-for-all effort:

Deep-pocketed hospital, insurance, and other lobbies are plotting to crush progressives’ hopes of expanding the government’s role in health care once they take control of the House. The private-sector interests, backed in some cases by key Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign alumni, are now focused on beating back another prospective health-care overhaul, including plans that would allow people under 65 to buy into Medicare. 

Behind the preposterously named “PAHCF” stands a huge complex of institutions that benefit from the wretched status quo. This includes the PhRMA drug lobby (Americans spend twice what comparable countries do on drugs, almost entirely because of price-gouging), the Federation of American Hospitals (Americans overpay on almost every medical procedure by roughly 2- to 10-fold), the American Medical Association (U.S. doctors, especially specialists, make far more than in comparable nations), America’s Health Insurance Plans, and BlueCross BlueShield (the cost of average employer-provided insurance for a family of four has increased by almost $5,000 since 2014, to $28,166).

The human carnage inflicted by this bloody quagmire of corruption and waste is nigh unimaginable. Perhaps 30,000 people die annually from lack of insurance, and 250,000 annually from medical error. America is a country where insurance can cost $24,000 before it covers anything, where doctors can conspire to attend each other’s surgeries so they can send pointless six-figure balance bills, where hospitals can charge the uninsured 10 times the actual cost of care, where gangster drug companies can buy up old patents and jack up the price by 57,500 percent, and on and on.

One might think this is all a bit risky. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to accept some sensible reforms, so these institutions don’t get completely driven out of business?

But wealthy elites almost never behave this way. John Kenneth Galbraith, explaining the French Revolution, once outlined one of the firmer rules of history: “People of privilege almost always prefer to risk total destruction rather than surrender any part of their privileges.” One reason is “the invariable feeling that privilege, however egregious, is a basic right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a small thing as compared with that of the rich.”

And so we see with the Big Medical lobby. The vast ziggurat of corpses piled up every year from horrific health-care dysfunction is just a minor side issue compared to the similar-sized piles of profits these companies accumulate — which they will fight like crazed badgers to preserve.

As Paul Waldman points out, this means a big resistance to the prospect of doing anything at all, let alone Medicare-for-all. However, the political implication is clear. If compromise is impossible, then liberals and leftists who want to improve the quality and justice of American health care should write off the corrupt pseudo-centrists, and go for broke. Democrats should write a health-care reform bill so aggressive that it drastically weakens the profitability of Big Medical, and drives many of them out of business entirely. If you cannot join them, beat them.

 

 

 

 

The ACA Protects People with Preexisting Conditions; Proposed Replacements Would Not

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/aca-protects-people-preexisting-conditions-proposed-replacements-would-not?omnicid=EALERT%%jobid%%&mid=%%emailaddr%%

Patient with preexisting condition

The Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces open for enrollment today for the sixth time. But this year the marketplace health plans in many states will face some new competition from insurance products that don’t meet the law’s standards, including the ban on denying coverage or charging more based on a person’s preexisting health conditions.

New Trump administration regulations released earlier this year have undermined the coverage protections in the ACA by making it possible for insurers to renew often skimpy short-term health insurance for up to three years, and for small businesses to form associations that sell substandard health plans. One of the reasons insurers can charge low premiums for these plans is that they generally cover less that ACA-compliant plans and insurers can deny them to people with diabetes or a history of cancer, for example. Only healthy people get these plans. And the more healthy people who buy them, the more expensive coverage becomes for people with a history of illness who buy their own insurance and have incomes too high to qualify for marketplace subsidies. In guidance released last week, the administration will allow states to further encourage the sale of these plans by letting people use federal subsidies to buy them.

As a nation, it is important for us to focus our energy on ways to improve people’s health. We are experiencing an unprecedented decline in life expectancy which will ultimately affect our economic health and the ability of Americans to compete in a global workforce. One of the most basic things we can do is preserve the coverage protections for people with health problems that have been law for more than four years, rather than poke holes in them. Americans say they support this idea. Recent polls have found that majorities of Americans believe that people with health conditions should not be denied affordable health insurance and health care. As a result, House and Senate candidates of both parties are running on their support for protecting coverage for people with preexisting conditions. But some of those very candidates voted to repeal the ACA last year.

The ACA has dramatically improved the ability of people with preexisting conditions to buy coverage. In 2010, before the law passed, we conducted a survey that found 70 percent of people with health problems said it was very difficult or impossible to buy affordable coverage, and just 36 percent said they ended up purchasing a health plan. By 2016, the percentage of people who had trouble buying an affordable plan had dropped down to 42 percent — still high but much improved — and 60 percent ultimately bought a plan.

While the congressional ACA repeal bills failed last year, a Republican Congress could try again next year. And in the meantime, the law’s preexisting conditions protections and other provisions face another threat from a lawsuit brought by Republican governors and attorneys general in 20 states. The U.S Department of Justice has agreed with the plaintiff states in part, and refused to defend the law’s preexisting condition protections. The court decision is pending. Should the states win, an estimated 17 million people could become uninsured.

Some congressional candidates from these states and others are pointing to their support for Republican proposals, such as the “Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act,” as proof they support coverage for preexisting conditions. This bill would prevent insurers from refusing or varying premiums based on preexisting conditions. But, unlike the ACA, this bill would allow insurers to sell plans that entirely exclude coverage for care pertaining to the preexisting conditions themselves. The reality is that this bill would not protect sick Americans, or those who may become ill in the future, from high out-of-pocket health care costs.

Several million people will be going to the marketplaces in the next few weeks to sign up for coverage since they do not have it through an employer. At this time, not one of them who buys a plan in the marketplace has to fear that an insurance company will deny them coverage or charge them a higher premium because of their health. The efforts to undermine the individual market and invalidate the ACA’s consumer protections are real-life threats for people who depend on this insurance for their health care. The nation cannot move forward with tackling our most pressing health care problems if we continue to debate a core protection of the ACA that most Americans support.

 

 

Feds are ready to claw back billions from Medicare insurers

https://www.axios.com/cms-clawback-medicare-advantage-audits-health-insurance-92edb13e-5abd-4527-8503-c0c74b501d58.html

A person picks up a medical chart from a long row in a cabinet.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is ready to charge ahead with broad audits of Medicare Advantage plans, which could result in companies paying back billions of taxpayers dollars to the federal government.

The big picture: The threat of these federal audits has existed for several years, but the audits haven’t led to large clawbacks yet. CMS now has an estimate of those improper payments to insurers: almost $14.4 billion in 2017, or 7% of Medicare Advantage spending from that year.

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How it works: The federal government pays Medicare Advantage companies monthly amounts based on how sick their enrollees are. Insurers code the conditions people have, and the more health problems someone has, the more insurers get paid.

  • But regulators are conducting “risk adjustment data validation” (RADV) audits that compare patient medical codes submitted by health insurers with the actual codes that doctors put in patient medical records.
  • The goal is to see if Medicare Advantage insurers are exaggerating people’s health conditions to get higher payments.
  • An investigation from the Center for Public Integrity detailed how the industry has manipulated these so-called “risk scores.”

Driving the news: New proposed regulations lay out the federal government’s legal authority for the audits.

  • CMS says it will audit the diagnoses of about 200 people in any given health plan and then extrapolate the results across the insurer’s entire Medicare Advantage population — leading to potentially large clawbacks for insurers that improperly code conditions.
  • An accompanying federal analysis separately found that coding errors in the traditional Medicare program have no bearing on how Medicare Advantage insurers are paid, and thus RADV audits should not adjust for those discrepancies. The analysis, in essence, pokes a hole in a recent federal ruling that favored insurers.

The bottom line: CMS appears ready to step on the gas and recoup money it believes the industry has bilked from taxpayers. Health insurers have long been frightened of RADV audits — every major publicly traded insurer lists the audits as a top “risk factor” in their annual filings to investors.

  • “CMS has a strong requirement to ensure accuracy of payments because of the magnitude of dollars flying around,” said Jessica Smith, a consultant at Gorman Health Group who studies risk adjustment.

Between the lines: Health insurers have successfully fought off or watered down these audits since they were first proposed. The industry almost certainly will work to weaken any final regulation.

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans — the industry’s leading lobbying group, which has made Medicare Advantage a priority as more insurers rely on the program for revenue — has already warned the audits must be “sound” and “legally appropriate.”