Fifth Circuit Hits Pause on ACA Lawsuit Over Government Shutdown

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/fifth-circuit-hits-pause-aca-lawsuit-over-government-shutdown

At the urging of the Trump administration, an appellate judge put legal wrangling over the Obama-era law’s constitutionality on hold until the partial government shutdown ends.

The appeals process to review a ruling that declared the entire Affordable Care Act invalid will have to wait until attorneys for the federal government have funding to proceed.

Fifth Circuit Court Judge Leslie H. Southwick issued a stay in the case Friday, granting a request filed earlier in the week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The pause comes three weeks into a partial government shutdown that’s poised to become this weekend the longest in U.S. history, as President Donald Trump insists that Congress authorize $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and Democrats refuse to do so.


While most of the federal government was funded by earlier legislation, this shutdown affects about 800,000 federal workers and inhibits the work of several agencies that handle health-related tasks.

Both the plaintiffs and federal defendants agreed that a stay would be appropriate. But the California-led coalition of Democratic state attorneys general challenging the lower court’s decision and the U.S. House of Representatives—which, newly under Democratic control, is seeking to intervene in the case to defend the ACA—opposed the stay request.

 

 

 

 

Bill de Blasio’s Grand Health Care Illusion

https://www.city-journal.org/de-blasios-health-care-for-all-illusion

Image result for Bill de Blasio's Grand Health Care Illusion

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a plan to “guarantee health care to all New Yorkers.” Responding to what he described as Washington’s failure to achieve single-payer health insurance, the mayor laid out a “transformative” plan to provide free, comprehensive primary and specialized care to 600,000 New Yorkers, including 300,000 illegal immigrants. “We are saying the word ‘guarantee’ because we can make it happen,” he announced, pledging to put $100 million toward the new initiative.

If spending an additional $100 million is all it takes to pay the health costs of a half-million people, you may wonder why New York City Health + Hospitals (HHC) is going broke spending $8 billion annually to treat 1.1 million people. The answer: Mayor de Blasio is not really proposing anything new; nor is he planning to expand services or care to anyone currently ineligible. All of New York City’s uninsured—including illegal aliens—can go to city hospitals and receive treatment on demand. The mayor is trying to do what some of his predecessors attempted—shift patients away from the emergency room and into primary care, or clinics. In 1995, for instance, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani empaneled a group of experts to address the future of the city’s public hospitals. The panel concluded, in the words of a Newsday editorial, that “for patients, emphasis would be on primary care instead of hurried emergency-room sessions and days of hospitalization.”

The tendency of a segment of the population to avoid the health-care system until a critical moment, relying in effect on emergency rooms for primary care, has been the knottiest problem in public health for decades. Letting simple problems fester makes them more expensive to treat. Using ERs designed to handle resource-intensive trauma situations for basic medical problems is inefficient and wasteful. The city has spent lots of money trying to convince poor, often dysfunctional people to develop regular medical habits by signing up for Medicaid and getting a primary-care doctor.

De Blasio makes it sound as though illegal immigrants have not been able to get health care until now. But in 2009, Alan Aviles, then the city’s hospitals chief, spoke of “hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds that cover the costs of serving uninsured patients including undocumented immigrants.” Aviles said that the city was renowned for its “significant innovations in expanding access to care for immigrants, including our financial assistance policies that provide deeply discounted fees for the uninsured, our comprehensive communications assistance for limited English proficiency patients, and our strictly enforced confidentiality policies that afford new immigrants a sense of security in accessing needed care.”

In 2013, Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx announced a new “Integrated Wellness Program” targeting seriously mentally ill people with chronic health problems—the same population that tends to be uninsured, to neglect their own care, and to wind up in the emergency room when their diabetes or cardiovascular disease catches up with them. “At Lincoln, we aim to establish best practices that combine physical and mental health—two services which have historically been treated separately,” said Milton Nuñez, then as now Lincoln’s director—words not much different from what Chirlane McCray said at Tuesday’s “revolutionary” press conference.

HHC director Mitchell Katz practically admitted that the mayor’s announcement of guaranteed health care for all is just fanfare, amounting to more “enabling services” for already-existing programs. Asked if uninsured people—largely illegal immigrants—can get primary care now, Katz explained, “you can definitely walk into any emergency room, you can go to a clinic, but what is missing is the good customer service to ensure that you get an available appointment. . . . that’s what we’re missing and the mayor is providing.”

Dividing $100 million by 600,000 people comes to about $170 per person—perhaps enough money to cover one annual wellness visit to a nurse-practitioner, assuming no lab work, prescriptions, or illnesses. Clearly, the money that the mayor is assigning to this new initiative is intended for outreach—to convince people to go to the city’s already-burdened public clinics instead of waiting until they get sick enough to need an emergency room. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but as a transformative, revolutionary program, it resembles telling people to call the Housing Authority if they need an apartment and then pretending that the housing crisis has been solved. Mayor de Blasio is an expert at unveiling cloud-castles and proclaiming himself a master builder. His “health care for all” effort seems little different.

 

 

How seniors are being steered toward private Medicare plans

https://www.axios.com/medicare-advantage-tilting-scales-7db28dd2-25af-4283-b971-21a61fa59371.html

Illustration of a wheelchair on one side of a seesaw with a hand pressing down the other side.

Today is the final day when seniors and people with disabilities can sign up for Medicare plans for 2019, and consumer groups are concerned the Trump administration is steering people into privately run Medicare Advantage plans while giving short shrift to their limitations.

Between the lines: Medicare Advantage has been growing like gangbusters for years, and has garnered bipartisan support. But the Center for Medicare Advocacy says the Trump administration is tilting the scales by broadcasting information that “is incomplete and continues to promote certain options over others.”

The big picture: The government has talked up the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans in emails to prospective enrollees during the past several weeks, the New York Times recently reported. Enrollment is approaching 22 million people, and there are reasons for its popularity.

  • Many MA plans offer $0 premiums and extra perks that don’t exist in standard Medicare, like vision and hearing coverage and gym memberships. MA plans also cap enrollees’ out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Traditional Medicare, by contrast, has higher out-of-pocket costs that usually require people to buy supplemental medical policies, called Medigap plans, as well as separate drug plans.

Yes, but: Federal marketing materials rarely mention MA’s tradeoffs.

  • MA plans limit which doctors and hospitals people can see, and they require prior approval for certain procedures. Provider directories also are loaded with errors.
  • MA plans spend less on care, yet continue to cost taxpayers more than traditional Medicare. Coding is a major problem.
  • People who enroll in MA often can’t buy a Medigap plan if they later decide to switch to traditional Medicare. And others, especially retirees leaving their jobs, may not even realize their employers are enrolling them in Medicare Advantage.

Where it stands: The Affordable Care Act slashed payments to MA insurers, but other Obama administration policies bolstered the industry. And now the Trump administration is helping it even more.

  • Obama officials built the chassis for today’s bonus system, which has been lucrative for plans (and likely wasteful, according to federal auditors).
  • A bipartisan 2015 law that adjusted Medicare payments to doctors killed the most popular Medigap plans, starting in 2020 — a move experts say could indirectly drive more people to MA.
  • HHS championed MA in a new policy document this week, on the heels of positive marketing.

What we’re hearing: Wall Street is beyond bullish on the major MA insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Humana. Supporters of MA like the idea of treating Medicare more like a marketplace, where people have to shop for a plan every year, but experts are worried about how it will affect the average enrollee.

“We know people don’t” actively engage in health insurance shopping, said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently wrote about MA. “It’s just too hard.”

 

 

 

ACA lawsuit puts GOP in an awkward position

https://www.axios.com/affordable-care-act-lawsuit-republicans-2c0aff0e-e870-49af-a15e-554d34d3ad62.html

Image result for aca lawsuit

A lawsuit that threatens to kill the entire Affordable Care Act could be a political disaster for the GOP, but most Republicans aren’t trying to stop it — and some openly want it to succeed.

Between the lines: The GOP just lost the House to Democrats who campaigned heavily on health care, particularly protecting people with pre-existing conditions, but the party’s base still isn’t ready to accept the ACA as the law of the land.

The big picture: A district judge ruled last month that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the whole law must fall along with it. That decision is being appealed.

  • A victory for the Republican attorneys general who filed the lawsuit — or for the Trump administration’s position — would likely cause millions of people with pre-existing conditions to lose their coverage or see their costs skyrocket.

Some Republicans want the lawsuit to go away.

  • Rep. Greg Walden, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, supports fully repealing the ACA’s individual mandate, which the 2017 tax law nullified. That’s what sparked this lawsuit, and formal repeal would likely put the legal challenge to rest.
  • Sen. Susan Collins laughed when I asked her whether she hopes the plaintiffs win the case. “No. What a question,” she said.

But other Republicans say they see an opportunity.

  • If the lawsuit prevails, “it means that we could rebuild and make sure that we have a health care system that is going to ensure that individuals are in charge of their health care,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said.
  • Sen. David Perdue said that “of course” he wants the challengers to win, which would “give us an opportunity to get at the real problem, and that is the cost side of health care.”
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said she views the lawsuit “as an opportunity for us to assure pre-existing conditions and make sure that we fix some of the broken problems,” but that she doesn’t know if it’d be good if the plaintiffs win.

The bottom line: “The longer we’re talking about preexisting conditions, the longer we’re losing. We need to focus on a message that can win us voters in 2020. The debate of preexisting conditions was a stone-cold loser for us in 2018,” said Matt Gorman, the communications director for House Republicans’ campaign arm during the 2018 cycle.

 

 

The Commonwealth Fund’s Top 10 for 2018

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2018/dec/commonwealth-funds-top-10-2018?omnicid=CFC%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

top 10

In 2018, the Commonwealth Fund’s centennial year, we continued our efforts to advance health care for all. When viewed through the lens of the most popular publications, it has been a year dedicated in large part to showing how Americans covered through the Affordable Care Act have fared as the law has come under attack from Congress and the White House. 

In the last year, we also released our latest state scorecard of health system performance and updated our analysis of the rise in deaths attributable to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Another top report demonstrated how states can sustain investments in social supports for people in Medicaid managed care.

Please join us as we look back over the year. Here they are: the 10 most-read Commonwealth Fund publications released in 2018.

 

 

 

10 Notable Health Care Events of 2018

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/10-notable-health-care-events-2018?omnicid=CFC%25%25jobid%25%25&mid=%25%25emailaddr%25%25

2018

Between the fiercely competitive midterm elections and ongoing upheaval over the Trump administration’s immigration policies, 2018 was no less politically tumultuous than 2017. The same was true for the world of health care. Republicans gave up on overt attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through legislation, but the administration’s executive actions on health policy accelerated. Several states took decisive action on Medicaid and some of the struggles over the ACA made their way to the courts. Drug prices remain astronomically high, but public outrage prompted some announcements to help control them. At the same time, corporate behemoths made deeper inroads into health care delivery, including some new overtures from Silicon Valley. Here’s a refresher on some of the most notable events of the year.

1. The ACA under renewed judicial assault

Texas v. Azar, a suit brought by Texas and 19 other Republican-led states, asked the courts to rule the entire ACA unconstitutional because Congress repealed the financial penalty associated with the individual mandate to obtain health insurance that was part of the original law. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, creating confusion at the end of the ACA’s open enrollment period, and setting up what may be a years-long judicial contest (yet again) over the constitutionality of the ACA. To learn more about the legal issues at stake, see Timothy S. Jost’s recent To the Point post.

2. Turnout for open enrollment in health insurance marketplaces surged at the end of the sign-up period

The federal and state-based marketplaces launched their sixth enrollment season on November 1 for individuals seeking to buy health coverage in the ACA’s individual markets for 2019. Insurer participation remained strong and premiums fell on average. While some states have extended enrollment periods, HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace, closed on December 15. After lagging in the early weeks, enrollment ended just 4 percent lower this year than in 2017.

3. The administration continues efforts to hobble ACA marketplaces

While the reasons behind lower enrollment cannot be decisively determined, executive action in 2018 may have contributed. The Trump administration dramatically cut back federal investments in marketplace advertising and consumer assistance for the second year in a row. The federal government spent $10 million on advertising for the 34 federally facilitated marketplaces this year (the same as last year but an 85 percent cut from 2016) and $10 million on the navigator program (down from $100 million in 2016), which provides direct assistance to hard-to-reach populations.

4. Insurers encouraged to sell health plans that don’t comply with the ACA

Another tactic the Trump administration is using to undercut the ACA is increasing the availability of health insurance products, such as short-term health plans, that don’t comply with ACA standards. Short-term plans, previously available for just three months, can now provide coverage for just under 12 months and be renewed for up to 36 months in many states. These plans may have gaps in coverage and lead to costs that consumers may not anticipate when they sign up. By siphoning off healthy purchasers, short-term plans and other noncompliant products segment the individual market and increase premiums for individuals who want to — or need to — purchase ACA-complaint insurance that won’t discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example.

5. Medicaid expansion in conservative states

Few states have expanded Medicaid since 2016, but in 2018, a new trend toward expansion through ballot initiatives emerged. Following Maine’s citizen-initiated referendum last year, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah passed ballot initiatives in November to expand Medicaid. Other red states may follow in 2019. Medicaid expansion not only improves access to care for low-income Americans, but also makes fiscal sense for states, because the federal government subsidizes the costs of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees (94 percent of the state costs at present, dropping to 90 percent in 2020).

6. Red states impose work requirements for Medicaid

A number of states submitted federal waivers to make employment a requirement for Medicaid eligibility. Such waivers were approved in five states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Indiana — and 10 other states are awaiting approval. At the end of 2018, lawsuits are pending in Arkansas and Kentucky challenging the lawfulness of work requirements for Medicaid eligibility. About 17,000 people have lost Medicaid in Arkansas as a result of work requirements.

7. Regulatory announcements respond to public outrage over drug prices

Public outrage over prescription drug prices — which are higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries — provided fodder for significant regulatory action in 2018 to help bring costs under control. Of note, the Food and Drug Administration announced a series of steps to encourage competition from generic manufacturers as well as greater price transparency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October announced a proposed rule to test a new payment model to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs and biologics covered under Part B of the Medicare program.

8. Corporations and Silicon Valley make deeper inroads into health care

Far from Washington, D.C., corporations and technology companies made their own attempts to alter the way health care is delivered in the U.S. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan Chase kicked 2018 off with an announcement that they would form an independent nonprofit health care company that would seek to revolutionize health care for their U.S. employees. Not to be outdone, Apple teamed up with over 100 health care systems and practices to disrupt the way patients access their electronic health records. And CVS Health and Aetna closed their $69 billion merger in November, after spending the better part of the year seeking approval from state insurance regulators. In a surprise move, a federal district judge then announced that he was reviewing the merger to explore the potential competitive harm in the deal.

9. Growth in health spending slows

The annual report on National Health Expenditures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that in 2017, health care spending in the U.S. grew 3.9 percent to $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person. After higher growth rates in 2016 (4.8%) and 2015 (5.8%) following expanded insurance coverage and increased spending on prescription drugs, health spending growth has returned to the same level as between 2008 to 2013, the average predating ACA coverage expansions.

10. Drug overdose rates hit a record high

Continuing a tragic trend, drug overdose deaths are still on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,237 fatalities in 2017. Overdose deaths are higher than deaths from H.I.V., car crashes, or gun violence, and seem to reflect a growing number of deaths from synthetic drugs, most notably fentanyl. 2018 was the first year after President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. National policy solutions have so far failed to stem the epidemic, though particular states have made progress.

As we slip into 2019, expect health care issues to remain front and center on the policy agenda, with the administration continuing its regulatory assault on many key ACA provisions, Democrats harassing the executive branch with House oversight hearings, both parties demanding relief from escalating pharmaceutical prices, and the launch of health care as a 2020 presidential campaign issue.