The fight over preexisting conditions is back. Here’s why the Obamacare battle won’t end.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/11/17441858/obamacare-repeal-debate-lawsuit

 

There is a persistent divide in the US: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

President Trump and Republicans are so committed to killing Obamacare they’ve decided, just months before the midterm elections, to take aim at the most popular part of the law: coverage for preexisting conditions.

The Trump administration signed on to a long-shot lawsuit this week that would overturn the parts of the law that require insurers to cover preexisting conditions and not charge more for them.

The lawsuit, which you can read more about from Vox’s Dylan Scott, is, in some ways, a perplexing move mere months before midterm elections. Polling finds that both Democrats and Republicans think it’s a good idea to ensure that sick people have access to health insurance.

Politically, though, Republicans spent eight years campaigning on a promise to repeal Obamacare. They believe they have a responsibility to do something, even if the something doesn’t poll well.

But after eight years of covering the Affordable Care Act, I think there is a much deeper tension that keeps the fight over Obamacare alive. It is a persistent, unresolved split in how we think about who deserves health insurance in the United States: Is insurance a privilege to be earned through hard work? Or is it a right?

The United States hasn’t decided who deserves health insurance

Since World War II, the United States has had a unique health insurance system that tethers access to medical care to employment. Changes to the tax code created strong incentives for companies to provide health coverage as a benefit to workers. Now most Americans get their insurance through their employer, and, culturally, health insurance is thought of as a benefit that comes with a job.

Over time, the government did carve out exceptions for certain categories of people. Older Americans, after all, wouldn’t be expected to work forever, so they got Medicare coverage in 1965. Medicaid launched the same year, extending benefits to those who were low-income and had some other condition that might make it difficult to work, such as blindness, a disability, or parenting responsibilities.

Then the Affordable Care Act came along with a new approach. The law aimed to open up the insurance market to anybody who wanted coverage, regardless of whether he or she had a job.

It created a marketplace where middle-income individuals could shop on their own for private health coverage without the help of a large company. It expanded Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. Suddenly, a job became a lot less necessary as a prerequisite for gaining health insurance.

This, I think, is the divide over health insurance in America. It’s about whether we see coverage as part of work. In my reporting and others’, I’ve seen significant swaths of the country where people push back against this. They see health as something you ought to work for, a benefit you get because of the contribution you make by getting up and going to a job each day.

This came out pretty clearly in an interview I did in late 2016 with a woman I met on a reporting trip to Kentucky whom I’ll call Susan Allen. (She asked me not to use her real name because she didn’t want people to know that she uses the Affordable Care Act for coverage.)

Allen used to do administrative work in an elementary school but now is a caregiver to her elderly mother. Her husband has mostly worked in manual labor jobs, including the coal industry.

Allen told me a story about when she worked in the school. At Christmas, there would be a drive to collect present for the poorest families, presents she sometimes couldn’t afford for her own kids. It made her upset.

”These kids that get on the list every year, I’d hear them saying, ‘My mom is going to buy me a TV for Christmas,’” Allen says. “And I can’t afford to buy my kid a TV, and he’s in the exact same grade with her.”

Allen saw her health insurance as the same story: She works really hard and ends up with a health insurance plan that has a $6,000 deductible. Then there are people on Medicaid who don’t work and seem to have easier access to the health care system than she does.

”The ones that have full Medicaid, they can go to the emergency room for a headache,” she says. “They’re going to the doctor for pills, and that’s what they’re on.”

Is health insurance a right or a privilege?

More recently, Atul Gawande wrote a piece for the New Yorker exploring whether Americans view health care as a right or a privilege.

He reported the story in his hometown in Appalachian Ohio, where he kept running into this same idea: that health insurance is something that belongs to those who work for it.

One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande noted in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was the type who merited such help.

This isn’t a debate that happens in most other industrialized countries. If you asked a Canadian who deserves health care, you’d probably get a baffled look in return. Our northern neighbors decided decades ago that health insurance is something you get just by the merit of living in Canada. It’s not something you earn; it’s something you’re entitled to.

But in the United States, we’ve never resolved this debate. Our employer-sponsored health care system seems to have left us with some really deep divides over the fundamental questions that define any health care systems.

Those are the questions we’ll need to resolve before the debate over Obamacare ever ends.

 

 

An Estimated 52 Million Adults Have Pre-Existing Conditions That Would Make Them Uninsurable Pre-Obamacare

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/an-estimated-52-million-adults-have-pre-existing-conditions-that-would-make-them-uninsurable-pre-obamacare/

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In Eleven States, 3 in 10 Non-Elderly Adults Would Likely Be Denied Individual Insurance Under Medical Underwriting Practices.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 – or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).

States with the most people estimated to have the conditions include: California (5,865,000), Texas (4,536,000), and Florida (3,116,000).

Using data from two large government surveys, the analysis estimates the total number of nonelderly adults in each state with a health condition that could lead to a denial of coverage in the individual insurance market, based on pre-ACA field underwriting guides for brokers and agents. The results are conservative because the data don’t include some declinable conditions. The estimates also don’t include the number of people with other health conditions that wouldn’t necessarily cause a denial, but could lead to higher insurance costs based on underwriting.

 

 

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health Care Politics, Midterm Edition

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health Care Politics, Midterm Edition

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The 2018 midterm elections were supposed to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, not about issues such as health care. Still, voters, Democrats and, to a lesser extent, Republicans seem to be keeping health care on the front burner.

The news from Medicare’s trustees that its hospital trust fund is on shakier financial footing than it was last year, hefty premium increases being proposed in several states and activity on Medicaid expansion all take on a political tinge as the critical elections draw closer.

Also this week, an interview with Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry trade group.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Outside Washington, concerns about health care accessibility and prices remain a big issue.
  • Democrats, looking toward the midterm elections in the fall, think that health care can be a potent issue for them. But many also believe that they can’t just run on complaints that the Republicans are sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. They are seeking to find a message that looks to the future.
  • Republicans see the plans by the White House to implement new regulations that allow expansion of association health plans and short-term health plans as a strong action that will thwart complaints that they haven’t fixed the ACA.
  • The states are beginning to release the initial requests from health insurers for premium increases. They vary substantially, but many appear to be partly attributed to the decision last year by Congress to repeal the penalty for people who don’t get insurance.
  • The report this week by the Medicare trustees that the hospital trust fund is closer to insolvency has ignited Democratic criticism of changes in health care law that were part of the GOP tax cut last year.
  • Arkansas has begun implementing its work requirements for healthy adults covered by the Medicaid expansion. It’s the first state to do that. But critics point out that those adults will have to register their work hours online only — and many do not have access to computers.

 

Let the ACA rate hikes begin

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Get ready for about six more months of headlines like this: Insurers in Maryland are proposing premium hikes as high as 91% for coverage sold through the Affordable Care Act.

This will keep happening, nationwide. Proposed increases have been steep in Maryland and Virginia, the first two states to release them. But all signs point to steep hikes across the country, especially in rural areas. Some insurers also will likely decide to simply quit offering coverage in some parts of the country.

The latest: Insurers in Maryland’s individual market are seeking rate hikes for next year that range from 18% (for the biggest plan in the state) to 91% (for the smallest). They average out to roughly 32%.

  • These rates are still preliminary — Maryland can approve or reject proposed increases, and it’s also pursuing a reinsurance program that would help bring these increases down.

Why you’ll hear about this again: More preliminary rates will trickle out until the summer, as will any insurers’ decisions to pull up stakes in some markets. After negotiations with state regulators, rates will be finalized a few weeks before the midterms.

  • Expect to hear Democrats making hay of these increases as they accuse Republicans of “sabotaging” the ACA.
  • There’s really no denying that the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, coupled with some of the Trump administration’s regulatory moves, is a big driver — though not the only driver — of these staggering increases.

The other side: Expect the Trump administration to cite these same figures as it finalizes regulations that would loosen access to options outside the ACA’s exchanges, saying they’re providing new options to people who simply can’t afford ACA coverage.

  • Don’t forget, though, that some of those options would only benefit the healthiest consumers.

Why health care costs are making consumers more afraid of medical bills than an actual illness

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/22/why-health-care-costs-are-making-consumers-more-afraid-of-medical-bills-than-an-actual-illness.html

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  • Health care costs are spiraling higher, but patient visits to a doctor have been on the decline.
  • A growing number of consumers are staying away out of fear of big bills.
  • However, “untimely visits or delay of visits to the physician ultimately leads to the increased cost of care,” the Cleveland Clinic’s CEO told CNBC.

 

As health care costs keep rising, more people seem to be skipping physician visits.

It’s not fear of doctors, however, but more of a phobia about the bills that could follow. Higher deductibles and out-of-network fees are just some of the out-of-pocket costs that can hit a consumer’s pockets.

U.S. health care costs keep rising, and hit more than $10,000 a year per person in 2016. According to a recent national poll, over the past 12 months, 44 percent of Americans said they didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick or injured because of financial concerns. Meanwhile, 40 percent said they skipped a recommended medical test or treatment.

Also, the study found most people who are delaying or skipping care actually have health insurance. Some 86 percent of those surveyed said they’re covered either through their employer, have insurance they purchased directly, or through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“There have been so many changes in the health care landscape in the United States that this news is not entirely surprising,” Cleveland Clinic president and CEO Tom Mihaljevic told CNBC’s “On the Money” in a recent interview. However, Mihaljevic warned that skipping visits or treatment can be counterproductive.

“One of most important consequences of skipping medical care or delaying care ultimately impacts the quality of care, impacts the outcome,” he said. “Untimely visits or delay of visits to the physician ultimately leads to the increased cost of care.”

However, the poll, conducted by the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute, found Americans fear large medical bills more than they do serious illness. The data showed 33 percent of those surveyed were “extremely afraid” or “very afraid” of getting seriously ill. About 40 percent said paying for health care is more frightening than the illness itself.

“Part of problem here is healthcare tends to be very complex, and every patient typically requires a number of procedures and tests to be done, so it’s really difficult to estimate the upfront cost of care, ” Mihaljevic told CNBC.

Additionally, the survey found 54 percent of those polled received one or more medical bills over the past year for something they thought was covered by their insurance. And 53 percent received a bill that was higher than they expected.

Mihaljevic acknowledged the range of different fees for the same services should be made clearer for consumers. “There is an absolute need for increased transparency when it comes to cost and this is one of mandates for our industry as a whole,” he said.

How technology can help

To combat rising health costs, Mihaljevic explained that the Cleveland Clinic is focused on the “standardization of care.”

“When we reduce the variability of the way we take care of patients, we manage to decrease the cost and at the same time improve the quality of care that we provide,” he added.

In addition, the health system is also pushing ahead with advances in medical technology, which may help bring down costs in the future. “We firmly believe digital technology is going to have a transformative effect,” Mihaljevic said. Among the initiatives is a partnership with IBM Watson to use big data to help clinical decision making.

And through the Cleveland Clinic’s Express Care Online, 25,000 virtual doctor visits were completed in 2017. Although virtual visits are billed as more cost effective,new data suggest otherwise.

“We are constantly looking how to make our care more accessible more affordable and of higher quality,” Mihaljevic added.

Trump administration issues rule further watering down Obamacare

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-healthcare-regulation/trump-administration-issues-rule-further-watering-down-obamacare-idUSKBN1HG384

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The Trump administration took additional steps to weaken Obamacare on Monday, allowing U.S. states to relax the rules on what insurers must cover and giving states more power to regulate their individual insurance markets.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a final rule that allows states to select essential health benefits that must be covered by individual insurance plans sold under former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires coverage of 10 benefits, including maternity and newborn care and prescription drugs. Under the new rule, states can select from a much larger list which benefits insurers must cover.

That could lead to less generous coverage in some states, according to Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm.

President Donald Trump’s administration has used its regulatory power to undermine Obamacare after the Republican-controlled Congress last year failed to repeal and replace the law. About 20 million people have received health insurance coverage through the program.

The new CMS rule also allows states the possibility of modifying the medical loss ratio (MLR) formula, the amount an insurer spends on medical claims compared with income from premiums that is also a key performance metric. A state can request “reasonable adjustments” to the medical loss ratio standard if it shows that it could help stabilize its individual market.

Insurers could also have an easier time raising their rates under the new rule. Obamacare mandated that premium rate increases of 10 percent or more in the individual market be scrutinized by state regulators to ensure that they are necessary and reasonable. The new CMS rule raises that threshold to 15 percent.

 

California Aims To Tackle Health Care Prices In Novel Rate-Setting Proposal

California Aims To Tackle Health Care Prices In Novel Rate-Setting Proposal

Backed by labor and consumer groups, a California lawmaker unveiled a proposal Monday calling for the state to set health care prices in the commercial insurance market.

Supporters of the legislation, called the Health Care Price Relief Act, say California has made major strides in expanding health insurance coverage, but recent changes haven’t addressed the cost increases squeezing too many families.

To remedy this, Assembly Bill 3087 calls for an independent, nine-member state commission to set health care reimbursements for hospitals, doctors and other providers in the private-insurance market serving employers and individuals.

The bill faces formidable opposition from physician groups and hospitals.

“No state in America has ever attempted such an unproven policy of inflexible, government-managed price caps across every health care service,” Ted Mazer, president of the California Medical Association, said in a statement.

At a press conference Monday, Assembly member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and other sponsors of the bill said the commission would use Medicare reimbursements as a benchmark and then factor in providers’ operating costs, geography and a reasonable amount of profit to establish rates. More details on the legislation are expected during committee hearings.

Across the country, some employers have tried a similar approach by mostly sidestepping insurers and instead paying providers 125 to 150 percent of the Medicare price for any service. Proponents of this idea say it eliminates the worst abuses in billing, reduces administrative costs and promotes price transparency.

The California legislation envisions a system similar to the rate-setting done for public utilities.

The proposal also borrows from Maryland, which has set prices for hospital services since the 1970s.

“We have given free rein to medical monopolies — to insurers, doctors and hospitals — to charge out-of-control prices,” said Sara Flocks, policy coordinator at the California Labor Federation, which is co-sponsoring the bill, at the Monday news conference. “It’s not that we go to the doctor too much. It’s because the price is too much.”

Kalra, the assemblyman who introduced the bill, said consumers deserve relief now because soaring medical costs are eating up workers’ wages and contributing to income inequality.

“The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable. Californians struggling to keep up demand action rather than politics as usual,” Kalra said at the news conference.

Health care providers immediately slammed the proposal, saying it would reduce patients’ access to care and drive medical providers out of the state.

Mazer countered that the bill would cause “an exodus of practicing physicians, which would exacerbate our physician shortage and make California unattractive to new physician recruits.”

Chad Terhune, a senior correspondent at California Healthline and Kaiser Health News, discussed the latest proposal and its future prospects with A Martinez, host of the “Take Two” show on Southern California Public Radio.