Launching the first “public option” insurance plan

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/05/16/723843559/will-washington-states-new-public-option-plan-reduce-heath-care-costs

Image result for public option

On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the nation’s first “public option” health plan, to be sold on the state’s individual health insurance exchange, starting during next year’s open enrollment period. Inslee, who is also a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, characterized the new plan as a “way for our state to push back” on the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The plan, called Cascade Care, is not quite the same as a true, government-run plan of the type proposed by some during the drafting of the ACA; rather, it creates a category of private insurance plans that will cap provider and facility rates at 160 percent of Medicare reimbursement, with the goal of lowering premiums for consumers who shop on Washington’s insurance marketplace.

The public option plan is meant to exert competitive pressure on other plans in the market in an attempt to drive premiums down, but experts expect the new plan to produce only a modest 5-10 percent savings for consumers. In 2018, average premiums on Washington’s exchange rose 38 percent, resulting in lower overall enrollment levels. Other states, including Colorado and Connecticut, are considering similar “public option” plans.

It’s notable that Washington’s approach is explicitly built around reducing payment to hospitals and doctors—any serious efforts to lower premiums will almost certainly have the same impact.

As the politics of healthcare continue to heat up, we’d expect more such proposals to gain traction across the country.

 

 

 

In health care, it’s still about the prices

https://www.axios.com/jp-morgan-health-care-industry-prices-1111d185-faad-4c2b-a281-d762031db433.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Illustration of a price tag as an IV bag.

Health care executives gave no indication to bankers and investors at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that their pricing practices would change any time soon.

Why it matters: That sentiment comes the same week when three of the original authors of an influential 2003 article — which studied why health care is so expensive in the U.S.— published an update. Their conclusion was the same: “It’s still the prices, stupid.”

The big picture: The U.S. spends far more than other industrialized countries on health care. But Americans, on a per-person basis, don’t go to the doctor or hospital more than people in other wealthy nations. There are also fewer doctors, nurses and hospital beds, per capita, in the U.S.

  • That means the U.S. spends more because hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and others charge higher prices, and health insurers aren’t negotiating good enough deals.
  • “Lowering prices in the U.S. will need to start with private insurers and self-insured corporations,” the authors wrote in this week’s update, published in the journal Health Affairs.

Reality check: Health care companies, even not-for-profits like hospitals that don’t have typical investors, have prioritized meeting revenue and profitability goals, and that short-term thinking compromises reform, according to interviews with people who attended the J.P. Morgan event.

  • Many executives continue to tout different ways of getting paid, like “value-based” pricing, but there’s no evidence those models will save money.
  • Drug companies are still focused on raising prices or buying lucrative biotechs, while providers find more ways to maximize what they get paid from insurers. As a result, insurers and employers raise premiums or deductibles for taxpayers and employees, which affects everyone’s paychecks.
  • One example: Dennis Dahlen, the chief financial officer of Mayo Clinic, told attendees how his academic medical center is building its own “five-star” hotel and is expanding proton beam therapy, even though that expensive treatment has limited or no clinical benefit.
  • “This is about money and [investors] getting a return,” said Stephen Buck, founder of cancer tech app Courage Health.

Yes, but: Some in the industry realize they need to act.

  • Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, said in an interview his hospital system has lowered the “cash price” of some services, like normal vaginal childbirth, to help people who have high deductibles — although services like childbirth often cost a lot more than the deductible.
  • Intermountain also has negotiated with insurers, with the exception of one unnamed company, to hold patients harmless if they get a surprise out-of-network bill, Harrison said.
  • Stephen Ubl, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, acknowledged in an interview that “the status quo is not acceptable. We understand the system needs to change.”
  • However, he continued to argue for changes in what people pay out of pocket, instead of changing the patent system or how companies price their products. Ubl described the Trump administration’s proposal to index the prices of some Medicare drugs to lower rates in other countries as “fruit of the poisonous tree of government price-setting.”

What to watch: Democrats are using “Medicare for All” and price-setting as a litmus test for 2020 candidates, and Democrats in Congress are proposing Medicare negotiation for drugs — an idea that Trump supported in the past. Regulatory or legislative changes to pricing are not completely out of the question if the industry fails to act.

 

 

 

Older Americans worried about insurance coverage, health costs as they approach retirement

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/older-americans-worried-about-insurance-coverage-and-health-costs-as-they-approach-retirement?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTXpGak0yVmtNamN6TnpkaCIsInQiOiJtQnVtUmFtN0RYbHMzb2hyM1wvXC93N1kwRDJ6RmlNSjg5Q2VsYkFFSTJpZlptKzc2b1ByYTcrVzNxNUtcL3BwVWVIbzJBWThSWmY4ZXpHK1RBUWdWODhqdkxYMXZQRnJtNWV4TWc4aFJqVUdiXC9sWWh0MEdJK2NPckNzVDQ3ZlhoUEgifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

A sizable percentage of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 are worried about their healthcare coverage as they head toward retirement, according to a new poll from the University of Michigan.

Although some of these concerns include things people can’t directly control, such as policy changes, many are focused on maintaining current coverage provided through an employer while reducing personal healthcare expenses.

“The ACA’s insurance coverage expansion was intended, in part, to reduce ‘job lock’ and allow individuals to change or leave their job without concern about becoming uninsured,” the report says. “However, data from this poll suggest that many adults age 50–64 still worry about maintaining employer-sponsored health insurance and keeping a job for that reason.”

About a quarter (27%) of respondents fear they won’t be able to afford their insurance over the next year, and nearly half (45%) expressed little to no confidence in being able to afford their insurance when they retire.

Meanwhile, 13% of those surveyed postponed medical care within the last year due to cost concerns. Another 15% postponed procedures until they could change their plan the following coverage year—so it would be covered, to incur lower out-of-pocket costs or to see a specific doctor in-network. Additionally, 8% of respondents between the ages of 60 and 64 reported delaying a procedure until they could get Medicare.

Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) said they were keeping a job, delaying retirement or considering delaying retirement to keep their employer-sponsored insurance. With that in mind, 71% of retirees were confident in their ability to afford insurance—a much higher percentage than those who were working (54%) or not working (49%).

Men were more confident than women that they could afford insurance at retirement (61% vs. 50%). Those in “excellent” health were more confident than those in “good” or “fair/poor” health (62% vs. 54% and 42%), as were those with a college degree compared to those without.

Nearly 8 in 10 respondents (79%) said they were very confident in their ability to navigate the health insurance landscape, though about 3 in 10 (29%) indicated little or no confidence that they could determine the out-of-pocket costs associated with a prospective service.

The study indicates Americans are closely watching and responding to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, such as a ruling by a federal judge in Texas striking down the law. Over the weekend, the judge issued a stay on the ruling, saying the healthcare law should remain in effect as appeals weave their way through the courts.

Half of those surveyed said they closely follow news about the ACA, Medicare or Medicaid, and 68% said they are worried about how their coverage may change due to federal policies.

“Regardless of potential federal policy changes, patients and their health care providers should discuss the out-of-pocket costs of health care, such as medical procedures, tests, or medications. Such discussions can help inform decisions about their health insurance options and the timing, choice, and appropriateness of health care services,” it concluded.

 

 

 

Middle-income Americans paying more for health insurance

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/middle-income-americans-paying-more-for-health-insurance/543903/

Dive Brief:

  • Middle-income families are spending more of their incomes on health insurance as average premiums skyrocketed in 2017 after modest rate increases earlier this decade, The Commonwealth Fund found in a new report.
  • Average employee contributions rose to nearly 7% of median income for single and family plans compared to 5.1% a decade ago. Premium contributions were 8% of median income or more in 11 states, including Louisiana, which had the highest percentage (10.2%).
  • The contributions and potential out-of-pocket spending for single and family policies was $7,240 in 2017. That was 11.7% of median income and an increase from 7.8% a decade ago.

Dive Insight:

Cost and price variations between areas aren’t anything new. A recent Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement found healthcare usage and pricing drive variation between states’ total healthcare costs. The report also found vast differences in costs between five states studied.

Overall, national health spending has slowed in recent years. The CMS Office of the Actuary reported this month that national health spending grew 3.9% ($10,739 per person) in 2017. It was the second consecutive year of slower healthcare spending growth. The slower cost growth is connected to fewer people receiving care.

The Commonwealth Fund found large differences between states. For instance, the average annual premium contributions for single-person plans ranged from $675 in Hawaii to $1,747 in Massachusetts. Michigan saw the cheapest premiums in family plans at $3,646 while Delaware had the highest at $6,533.

The average annual deductible for single-person policies increased to more than $1,800 in 2017. The gap was between $863 (Hawaii) and about $2,300 (Maine and New Hampshire). Three states (Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee) had average deductibles more than 6% of median income.

Premiums for employer health plans, which is how most Americans get coverage, increased 4.4% for single plans and 5.5% for family plans in 2017. All but five states saw higher single-person premiums with eight states averaging more than $7,000 (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wyoming).

Meanwhile, family premiums increased in 44 states and were $20,000 or more in seven states (Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia.

The cost of health insurance is increasing faster than wage growth — and the Commonwealth Fund found that the added cost isn’t leading to higher-quality health insurance. The issue is especially a problem in southern states with lower median incomes, such as Mississippi.

The group suggested policymakers could tackle the problem of rising healthcare costs in a couple of ways.

Congress could provide more tax credits to people with employer-sponsored insurance, require businesses to improve plan benefit design to cover more services before employees reach their deductibles and offer refundable tax credits to offset out-of-pocket costs.

Other potential efforts include connecting provider payments to value and outcomes, addressing the concentration of payer and provider markets and slowing prescription drug cost growth. “Policymakers will need to recognize that the increasing economic strain of healthcare costs facing middle-income and poor Americans is driven by multiple interrelated factors and will require a comprehensive solution,” according to the report.

 

The Cost of Employer Insurance Is a Growing Burden for Middle-Income Families

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2018/dec/cost-employer-insurance-growing-burden-middle-income-families

middle-income family shops for groceries

Recent national surveys show health care costs are a top concern in U.S. households.1 While the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces receive a lot of media and political attention, the truth is that far more Americans get their coverage through employers. In 2017, more than half (56%) of people under age 65 — about 152 million people — had insurance through an employer, either their own or a family member’s.2 In contrast, only 9 percent had a plan purchased on the individual market, including the marketplaces.

In this brief, we use the latest data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (MEPS–IC) to examine trends in employer premiums at the state level to see how much workers and their families are paying for their employer coverage in terms of premium contributions and deductibles. We examine the size of these costs relative to income for those at the midrange of income distribution. The MEPS–IC is the most comprehensive national survey of U.S. employer health plans. It surveyed more than 40,000 business establishments in 2017, with an overall response rate of 65.8 percent.

Highlights

  • After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, average premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in 2017. Annual single-person premiums climbed above $7,000 in eight states; family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states and D.C.
  • Rising overall employer premiums increased the amount that workers and their families contribute. Average annual premium contributions for single-person plans ranged from $675 in Hawaii to $1,747 in Massachusetts; family plans ranged from $3,646 in Michigan to $6,533 in Delaware.
  • Average employee premium contributions across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008. In 11 states, premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.
  • The average annual deductible for single-person policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire. Average deductibles across single and family plans amounted to 4.8 percent of median income in 2017, up from 2.7 percent in 2008. In three states (Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee), average deductibles comprised more than 6 percent of median income.
  • Combined, average employee premium contributions and potential out-of-pocket spending to meet deductibles across single and family policies rose to $7,240 in 2017 and was $8,000 or more in eight states. Nationally, this potential spending amounted to 11.7 percent of median income in 2017, up from 7.8 percent a decade earlier. In Louisiana and Mississippi, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.

 

 

 

 

Pre-existing conditions: Does any GOP proposal match the ACA?

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/oct/17/pre-existing-conditions-does-any-gop-proposal-matc/?fbclid=IwAR2QXSwiwRryxaHWJVgO3evTUtJPk6QcV1HkxkaI2qq3iPWqsrXqGA0qPeY

From a routine visit to a critical exam, the stethoscope remains one of the most common physician tools. (Alex Proimos, via Flickr Creative Commons)

In race after race, Democrats have been pummeling Republicans on the most popular piece of Obamacare, protections for pre-existing conditions. No matter how sick someone might be, today’s law says insurance companies must cover them.

Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have all aimed to retain the guarantee that past health would be no bar to new coverage.

Democrats aren’t buying it.

In campaign ads in NevadaIndianaFloridaNorth Dakota, and more, Democrats charged their opponents with either nixing guaranteed coverage outright or putting those with pre-existing conditions at risk. The claims might exaggerate, but they all have had a dose of truth.

Republican proposals are not as air tight as Obamacare.

We’ll walk you through why.

The current guarantee

In the old days, insurance companies had ways to avoid selling policies to people who were likely to cost more than insurers wanted to spend. They might deny them coverage outright, or exclude coverage for a known condition, or charge so much that insurance became unaffordable.

The Affordable Care Act boxes out the old insurance practices with a package of legal moves. First, it says point-blank that carriers “may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion.” It backs that up with another section that says they “may not establish rules for eligibility” based on health status, medical condition, claims experience or medical history.

Those two provisions apply to all plans. The third –– community rating –– targets insurance sold to individuals and small groups (about 7 percent of the total) and limits the factors that go into setting prices. In particular, while insurers can charge older people more, they can’t charge them more than three times what they charge a 21-year-old policy holder.

Wrapped around all that is a fourth measure that lists the essential health benefits that every plan, except grandfathered ones, must offer. A trip to the emergency room, surgery, maternity care and more all fall under this provision. This prevents insurers from discouraging people who might need expensive services by crafting plans that don’t offer them.

At rally after rally for Republicans, President Donald Trump has been telling voters “pre-existing conditions will always be taken care of by us.” At an event in Mississippi, he faulted Democrats, saying, they have no plan,” which ignores that Democrats already voted for the Obamacare guarantees.

At different times last year, Trump voiced support for Republican bills to replace Obamacare. The White House said the House’s American Health Care Act “protects the most vulnerable Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions.” A fact sheet cited $120 billion for states to keep plans affordable, along with other facets in the bill.

But the protections in the GOP plans are not as strong as Obamacare. One independent analysis found that the bill left over 6 million people exposed to much higher premiums for at least one year. We’ll get to the congressional action next, but as things stand, the latest official move by the administration has been to agree that the guarantees in the Affordable Care Act should go. It said that in a Texas lawsuit tied to the individual mandate.

The individual mandate is the evil twin of guaranteed coverage. If companies were forced to cover everyone, the government would force everyone (with some exceptions) to have insurance, in order to balance out the sick with the healthy. In the 2017 tax cut law, Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having coverage. A few months later, a group of 20 states looked at that change and sued to overturn the entire law.

In particular, they argued that with a toothless mandate, the judge should terminate protections for pre-existing conditions.

The U.S. Justice Department agreed, writing in its filing “the individual mandate is not severable from the ACA’s guaranteed-issue and community-rating requirements.”

So, if the mandate goes, so does guaranteed-issue.

The judge has yet to rule.

Latest Republican plan has holes

In August, a group of 10 Republican senators introduced a bill with a title designed to neutralize criticism that Republicans don’t care about this issue. It’s called Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions. (A House Republican later introduced a similar bill.)

The legislation borrows words directly from the Affordable Care Act, saying insurers “may not establish rules for eligibility” based on health status, medical condition, claims experience or medical history.

But there’s an out.

The bill adds an option for companies to deny certain coverage if “it will not have the capacity to deliver services adequately.”

To Allison Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, that’s a big loophole.

“Insurers could exclude someone’s preexisting conditions from coverage, even if they offered her a policy,” Hoffman said. “That fact alone sinks any claims that this law offers pre-existing condition protection.”

The limit here is that insurers must apply such a rule across the board to every employer and individual plan. They couldn’t cherry pick.

But the bill also gives companies broad leeway in setting premiums. While they can’t set rates based on health status, there’s no limit on how much premiums could vary based on other factors.

The Affordable Care Act had an outside limit of 3 to 1 based on age. That’s not in this bill. And Hoffman told us the flexibility doesn’t stop there.

“They could charge people in less healthy communities or occupations way more than others,” Hoffman said. “Just guaranteeing that everyone can get a policy has no meaning if the premiums are unaffordable for people more likely to need medical care.”

Rodney Whitlock, a health policy expert who worked for Republicans in Congress, told us those criticisms are valid.

“Insurers will use the rules available to them to take in more in premiums than they pay out in claims,” Whitlock said. “If you see a loophole and think insurers will use it, that’s probably true.”

Past Republican plans also had holes

Whitlock said more broadly that Republicans have struggled at every point to say they are providing the same level of protection as in the Affordable Care Act.

“And they are not,” Whitlock said. “It is 100 percent true that Republicans are not meeting the Affordable Care Act standard. And they are not trying to.”

The House American Health Care Act and the Senate Better Care Reconciliation Act allowed premiums to vary five fold, compared to the three fold limit in the Affordable Care Act. Both bills, and then later the Graham-Cassidy bill, included waivers or block grants that offered states wide latitude over rates.

Graham-Cassidy also gave states leeway to redefine the core benefits that every plan had to provide. Health law professor Wendy Netter Epstein at DePaul University said that could play out badly.

“It means that insurers could sell very bare-bones plans with low premiums that will be attractive to healthy people, and then the plans that provide the coverage that sicker people need will become very expensive,” Epstein said.

Insurance is always about sharing risk. Whether through premiums or taxes, healthy people cover the costs of taking care of sick people. Right now, Whitlock said, the political process is doing a poor job of resolving how that applies to the people most likely to need care.

“The Affordable Care Act set up a system where people without pre-existing conditions pay more to protect people who have them,” Whitlock said. “Somewhere between the Affordable Care Act standard and no protections at all is a legitimate debate about the right tradeoff. We are not engaged in that debate.”

 

 

10 thoughts on the state of healthcare from Scott Becker

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/10-thoughts-on-the-state-of-healthcare-from-scott-becker.html

1. Healthcare, given that we have 325 million-plus people in the U.S. with an aging and growing population that is living longer, is a very complex problem.

2. When I hear any executive, technology person or sales person look at an audience and say, “If everyone would just use this type of coaching app for diabetes or behavioral health, we would cut billions of dollars in costs,” I cringe, scoff, laugh and tend to get angry. I recently heard this in a speech I listened to.

3. Healthcare at its core is really taking care of individual patients. I see the theories behind population health and preventive health but I’m skeptical that it’s a fix-all.

4. When people say there should be no fee for service, I tend to think they’re representing some constituency. I assume at some level someone will still need to get paid to do something.

5. Hospitals and physicians and many providers will struggle as they become more reliant on governmental pay and as commercial patients are siphoned off. Government reimbursements will soften.

6. I’m not so dumb as to not see the irony in the campaign signs that said “get the government’s hands off my Medicare.”

7. Notwithstanding No. 6, whenever the government does place fingers on the scale, they are often wrong, and it often has massive unintended consequences.

8. The system costs with 325 million-plus people in the U.S. are crazy and insurance costs per family are insane.

9. Both parties are tone deaf as to the needs of the American people. Simply stated people that are poor need healthcare, and people that aren’t poor need affordable healthcare. These people are both Republicans and Democrats.

10. Given the quasi-monopolies of insurance companies in certain areas and the lack of insurance options, it’s likely we will need some sort of public option at some point.