GOP tax law boosts health care profits

Image result for 1 big thing: GOP tax law boosts health care profits

The GOP tax law is padding health care companies’ bottom lines, according to my colleague Bob Herman’s analysis of newly released financial information from the last quarter of 2018. Overall, the industry’s profits were up significantly from the same period a year earlier.

The big picture: The law made it easier to bring home money that was parked abroad. It also eliminated tax provisions that have specifically helped large companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers. But the lower corporate tax rate is the main event.

  • Drug giant Pfizer received a $563 million tax benefit in the fourth quarter, and its corporate income tax rate in all of 2018 was just 6%.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s effective tax rate in the last quarter of 2018 was 2.6%.
  • Almost half of the $551 million tax break recorded by hospital chain HCA Healthcare in 2018 came in the fourth quarter.

Between the lines: The tax law aside, the companies that handle the most revenue — like health insurers collecting premiums or drug distributors shipping products — are not the most profitable.

  • The highest margins still usually belong to pharmaceutical companies and medical-devices.




Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway launch new healthcare company: 6 things to know

Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway are starting a healthcare company, aiming to lower costs


Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are launching a new company aimed at cutting healthcare costs for their U.S. employees.

Here are six things to know about the partnership.

1. In addition to reducing healthcare costs, the companies are aiming to improve employee satisfaction through the new venture. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan are hoping the sheer size of each company and their complementary areas of expertise will help them tackle these issues.

2. “Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” said Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan. “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans.”

3. The companies said the project, which is in the early planning stage, will initially focus on technology solutions.

4. “The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

5. The new venture will be jointly spearheaded by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a managing director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a senior vice president at Amazon.

6. “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”


The problem with American health care is the care

A bipartisan health care deal recently brokered by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would give states greater power over health policy. But even if this nascent legislation falters, states will likely see their influence grow through actions of the Trump administration.

If state governors are going to be in the driver’s seat, they should understand something that Congress, with its narrow focus on insurance coverage, seems to have missed: the main problem with American health care is the care. Although it is important to have stable insurance markets, changes to coverage or benefit design will ultimately do little to reduce costs or make Americans healthier.

Our health care system is stuck in the 1950s, when the prevailing epidemics were polio and influenza. Today’s public health challenges are chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and opioid addictionHalf of all adults — 117 million Americans — have a chronic condition; the projected cost is $794 billion in lost productivity alone between 2016 and 2030.

For the most part, chronic diseases aren’t caused by microbes but by problems for which there are no pills or vaccines: deeply rooted personal, social, financial, and behavioral issues, messy, real-life problems like job layoffs, eviction notices, or loneliness. These issues have a profound effect on health, particularly in working-class communities where health care costs are high.

Our health care system hasn’t caught up with the evolving face of disease in America. It is still mostly a workforce of doctors and nurses who dutifully treat patients in hospitals with expensive drugs and high-tech medical devices. If we could reconfigure health care to detect and address the root causes of costly illness, health reform would be a true success.

Several initiatives have laid a path forward. This year, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will begin Accountable Health Communities, a five-year grant that enables hospitals and doctor’s offices to check their patients for real-life issues that affect health. Once these have been identified, community health workers — trained laypeople from local communities — would help support patients and connect them to resources like housing or child care. This type of support can have a profound effect on health and lower costs.

In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that a community health worker program called IMPaCT lowered hospitalizations by 30 percent and reduced cigarette smoking, obesity, the severity of diabetes, and mental illness. This model yields a 2-to-1 return on investment, which has prompted large health systems and payers to invest millions in scaling it up.

The current debate around state waivers is focused on limiting health insurance coverage or scaling back essential benefits. Maine has joined Wisconsin, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Utah in submitting waiver applications that impose premiums for Medicaid beneficiaries and coverage lockouts that bar them from re-enrolling in health insurance coverage if they lose it because of unpaid premiums. Maine anticipates that its proposed waiver would lose its members a collective 55,000 months of coverage.

Instead of this approach, governors could apply for waivers to shift Medicaid funds into programs that screen for and address root causes of health through hospitals and doctor’s offices. These programs could yield significant cost savings while improving health, instead of cutting coverage.

Reshuffling insurance coverage schemes as a way to reduce costs is basically a shell game — a dangerous one — that does little to address the core ills of the system. It would be a wasted opportunity if health care reform did not also transform the way we deliver health care so Americans can have better health at lower cost.


Health care fixes miss the mark


The phrase “repeal and replace Obamacare” might be in the news, but any new legislation regarding it means little for Michiganians.

Obamacare and the Republicans’ fix, the American Health Care Act, are almost entirely focused on the individual insurance market, yet the majority of Americans receive employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. More importantly, more than one million Metro Detroiters are covered by employers who “self-fund” or self-insure their employee health care benefits.

What does self-insure mean? It means your employer pays, right out of its annual budget, 100 percent of employee medical claims. Your card might read Blue Cross Blue Shield or Aetna, but the insurance company is simply the administrator who collects the claims and sends them off to your employer for payment.

Regardless of who is paying, rising health care costs are the No. 1 threat to American prosperity. Health care costs forced General Motors, Chrysler and the city of Detroit into bankruptcy; health care costs are the main reason wages have not grown in 20 years; and, Michigan spends 40 percent (and growing) of its annual budget on health care — crowding out spending on everything else.

But fixing our health care cost problem today doesn’t require a single action from Congress. Instead of marching on Washington and yelling at elected officials, we should be talking to our CEOs and heads of human resources.

Self-insured employers have tremendous power to change health care. Most employers simply outsource health care benefit construction to consultants and brokers — the same people who are compensated to perpetuate our high-cost health care status quo.

When the lame, status quo attempts at cost-control fail, the usual employer response is to cut, cut, cut. They resort to using an axe to prune rose bushes; high deductible health plans are blunt force instruments that do not sustainably control health care costs and will eventually exacerbate our cost problem.

Indeed, a few, truly innovative employers are providing better employee benefits and reducing health care costs 20-50 percent. If everyone followed their lead, it could result in $2,500 to $5,000 annual raises for each of us and immediately pump $2 billion to 4 billion into the Metro Detroit economy every year.

The solution isn’t a secret. In fact, a non-profit/501(c)(3) called the Health Rosetta was formed to publicize the simple fixes. The organization was spurred by a concerned citizen and the former global head of Microsoft’s health care business named Dave Chase.

The Health Rosetta identifies a few, easy to implement, specific improvements, the most important of which focuses on the intake or front-end of the system: primary care. Hence, the Health Rosetta’s foundation is called Value-Based Primary Care or Direct Primary Care. Other improvements are then built on top, such as “Transparent Medical Markets,” where patients receive up-front pricing and even quality guarantees on a range of surgeries and procedures.

These are the kinds of solutions employers should be considering as everyone wrestles with skyrocketing health care costs.

Tom Valenti is the founding partner of Forthright Health.

Your Health Insurance Will Cost More Next Year: Here’s What’s Driving Prices Higher

The cost of getting your health insurance through work will go up an average of 5 percent next year, according to a new survey of large employers by the National Business Group on Health.

The cost for employers will go up 6 percent. This is the third consecutive year that employers’ health costs have risen by 6 percent. While that’s still more six times the current rate of inflation, it’s likely a smaller increase than will be experienced by consumers who purchase insurance through the public exchanges.

While those plans vary widely by state, the average plan is expected to cost 10 percent more in 2017, according to Kaiser. Last year, the price of the average silver level plan on public exchanges increased 12 percent.

For employers, the biggest driver of the cost increases is the price of specialty drugs. Other factors included high-cost claims and long-term conditions, according to the NGBH survey.

If You Want To Spend A Bundle On Your Bundle Of Joy, Go To Northern California

If You Want To Spend A Bundle On Your Bundle Of Joy, Go To Northern California

Everyone knows that real estate is no bargain in Northern California. It turns out that giving birth ain’t cheap either.

New research on the cost of childbirth in the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas ranks Sacramento and San Francisco as the two most expensive for both vaginal delivery and Cesarean sections.

Sacramento is No. 1, San Francisco No. 2.

The study, based on private health insurance claims from this year and other data, shows the totals actually paid for childbirth by employees and employers. It was conducted byCastlight Health, a San Francisco-based health care information company that analyzes medical costs to help consumers and purchasers compare prices.

A vaginal delivery costs an average of $15,420 in the Sacramento area and $15,204 in San Francisco — nearly $4,000 more than the third-most expensive location, Minneapolis. In the least expensive metropolitan area, Kansas City, a vaginal delivery costs $6,075.

C-sections are even more expensive, costing an average of $27,067 in Sacramento — nearly four times as much as in Pittsburgh, the cheapest city. San Francisco had the second highest cost for C-sections, at $21,799. San Diego came in fifth at $16,810.

The data show that prices vary widely even within the most expensive regions. In San Francisco, for example, the cost for a Cesarean delivery ranged from $8,399 to $41,191 — a five-fold price difference. Patients, however, rarely know how much a procedure will cost until they receive the bill.