The health of 44M seniors is jeopardized by cuts to Medicare lab services

https://www.acla.com/pama/?utm_source=axios-site-ad&utm_medium=ad&utm_campaign=axios-sponsorship

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The Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA)

Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) in 2014 to help safeguard Medicare beneficiaries’ access to needed health services, including laboratory tests. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has taken a flawed and misguided approach to PAMA implementation. As a result of the Department’s actions, seniors will face an estimated $670 million in cuts to critical lab services this year alone, leaving the health of 57 million Medicare beneficiaries hanging in the balance.

PAMA cuts will be particularly burdensome to the most vulnerable seniors, such as those in skilled nursing facilities, those managing chronic conditions, and seniors living in medically underserved communities. The American Clinical Laboratory Association has raised significant concerns about the impact of Medicare lab cuts on seniors and their access to lifesaving diagnostics and lab services.

Learn more about the harm posed by these cuts on seniors here. Read the lawsuit ACLA has filed against HHS here.

WHAT’S AT STAKE


In 2016, seniors enrolled in Medicare received an average of

16 individual lab tests per year

Test tubes

People

80% of seniors

have at least one chronic disease and 77% have at least two—successful disease monitoring and management requires reliable access to routine testing

House

1 million

seniors are living in assisted living or skilled nursing homes

Hands

3.5 million

homebound seniors
rely on skilled home health care services

Map pin

An estimated

10 million

seniors live in rural areas

LACK OF ACCESS TO LAB TESTS

can result in undiagnosed conditions, lack of treatment for sick patients, and the failure to monitor and treat chronic conditions before they become worse—
resulting in a decline in overall health and longevity.

The PAMA cuts will also have a broad impact on laboratories across the country. Those that will face the brunt of the cuts are the very labs and providers that are uniquely positioned to provide services—like house-calls, 24-hour emergency STAT testing, and in-facility services at skilled nursing facilities—that are particularly important to seniors who are more likely to be homebound, managing multiple chronic conditions, or living in rural areas that are medically underserved.

 

 

 

 

 

A Little-Known Windfall for Some Hospitals, Now Facing Big Cuts

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/a-little-known-windfall-for-some-hospitals-now-facing-big-cuts/

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Most hospitals are nonprofit and justify their exemption from taxation with community service and charity care. But the Trump administration could require some of them to do more to help the poor, and the hospitals that are in the cross-hairs are those benefiting from an obscure drug discount program known as 340B.

The 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufactures to sell drugs at steep discounts to certain hospitals serving larger proportions of low-income and vulnerable people, such as children or cancer patients. The participating hospitals may charge insurers and public programs like Medicare and Medicaid more for those drugs than they paid for them and keep the difference.

By one estimate, the program saved hospitals $6 billion in 2015 alone. The original intent of the program, enacted in 1992, was for hospitals to use the revenue to provide more low-income patients a broader range of services.

Many institutions that serve mostly low-income and uninsured populations say they need the program. “Most nonprofit hospitals have very slim profit margins, and they’ve come to rely on this revenue,” said Melinda Buntin, chairwoman of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. A hospital lobbying group said that for some rural hospitals, the funding cut “could actually be the difference between staying open and closing.”

But there is concern that 340B has come to include hospitals that don’t need the extra help and are not using its windfall as originally intended.

The program has grown considerably, most recently as a result of an expansion included in the Affordable Care Act. As of 2004, about 200 hospitals benefited from the 340B program; by 2015, over 1,000 were participating. The program now encompasses 40 percent of all hospitals and an even larger number of hospital-affiliated clinics and pharmacies.

It might seem odd to give discounts on drugs to help hospitals offer care to low-income patients. How can we be sure they’ll use the money for that?

An increasing number of hospitals are not.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the early participating hospitals were more likely to be located in poor communities with higher levels of uninsured people, to spend more of their budget on uncompensated care, and to offer more low-profit services than hospitals that started participating later.

“The 340B program may produce the results intended at some hospitals,” said Sayeh Nikpay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University and a co-author on the study. “But as the program grew, it benefited many hospitals with less need for assistance in serving low-income populations.”

Other research corroborates that hospitals aren’t using the 340B program as intendedA study in The New England Journal of Medicine was unable to find any evidence that profits from 340B have led to more access to care for low-income patients, or reductions in mortality rates among them. Another study in Health Affairs found that 340B hospitals have increasingly expanded into more affluent communities with higher rates of insurance.

The 340B program may have also inadvertently raised costs — for example, by encouraging care in 340B-eligible hospitals that could have been provided less expensively elsewhere. A study in Health Services Research found that hospital participation in 340B is associated with a shift of cancer care from lower-cost physician offices to higher-cost hospital settings.

The program may also encourage providers to use more expensive drugs. The more hospitals can charge insurers and public programs for a drug — relative to how much they have to pay for it under the program — the greater the revenue they receive. They also receive more revenue when the drugs are prescribed more often.

In January, Medicare lowered the prices it pays for 340B drugs by 27 percent. Although this move chips away at how much hospitals can benefit financially, it does little to address how much insurers and individuals pay for prescription drugs or the value they obtain from them. In addition, the move does nothing to increase hospital spending that could help the poor.

It may even harm some health care organizations, leading to lower-quality care at those institutions that are helping the poor. Studies have shown that, by and large, when hospitals lose financial resources, they make cuts that could harm some patients.

This can happen if cuts lead to reductions in workers who perform important clinical functions. A study in Health Services Research found that hospitals cut nursing staff in response to Medicare payment cuts in the late 1990s. Heart attack mortality rates improved less at hospitals that had larger cuts.

Another response to reduced revenue is cuts to specific services, which would harm patients who rely on them. A study by economists from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that some hospitals that endured financial setbacks during the Great Recession cut less profitable services like trauma centers and alcohol- and drug-treatment facilities.

Another study looked at a 1998 California law that required hospitals to comply with seismic safety standards — imposing a large cost on those institutions, without providing additional funding. Hospitals that were hit harder financially by this law were more likely to close; government hospitals responded by reducing charity care.

Hospitals could absorb cuts without harming care if they could become more productive — by doing more with less. Historically, there is very little evidence they have been able to do that.

Two powerful lobbies are now battling each other, with the pharmaceutical industry arguing that 340B has grown well beyond its original intent. Hospital lobbying groups are fighting back and also squaring off against the government, suing over the planned federal cuts.

Those are big clashes over a program that began modestly a quarter of a century ago to help the poor, albeit in a most convoluted way.

 

 

Tax Bill Threatens Our Health and Our Democracy

http://www.chcf.org/articles/2017/12/tax-bill-threatens-our-democracy

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Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation that would overhaul the tax code, make dramatic changes to federal health care policy, and undermine the budgets of Medicaid and Medicare, two pillars of the American health care system. The House and Senate are now trying to reconcile their two tax bills. Each passed the legislation on a party-line vote, with one Republican voting against the bill in the Senate.

Congress is now one step away from passing a tax bill that will have a profound effect on the health and well-being of Americans for a generation. No one should forget that, to get this close, the Senate rushed to approve a deeply unpopular proposal with little transparency and due diligence — and no bipartisanship. Left unchecked, these actions will harm millions of Americans — and American democracy itself.

Even though the legislation has been framed as a tax bill, it is very much a health care bill. The Senate bill would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate, which would lead to the destabilization of the individual health insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that this change alone would increase individual premiums by 10% a year and cause as many as 13 million Americans to join the ranks of the uninsured by the end of the next decade. In California, the uninsured population would grow by 1.7 million people. Congress may still pass separate legislation to restore some stability to the individual market, but the leading proposals are too modest to prevent much damage.

Seismic Impact

On its own, the language in the tax bills would trigger a major earthquake in the health care system, and the aftershocks of this tax bill would be just as dangerous. By eliminating more than $1 trillion of federal revenue, the administration and congressional leaders are manufacturing a budget crisis that would likely lead to automatic cuts to Medicare under federal rules. The CBO, which examined the House bill, has estimated that those cuts could be around $25 billion a year. Republican leaders have also indicated they intend to use the revenue shortfall that they are engineering with this tax bill to seek deep cuts in safety-net programs, starting with Medicaid.

This isn’t merely about what the legislation will do to health care, because it also would exacerbate inequality and worsen health disparities in this country. Under both the House and Senate bills, low- and middle-income families would pay more in taxes and have a harder time paying not just for health care, but also for food, housing, child care, education, and other basic needs. When people struggle so much to make ends meet, they suffer more from illness and die younger. And if inequality keeps getting worse, it will undermine the economic, social, and political stability upon which our nation depends.

The burden on Californians would be particularly heavy. Our families would no longer be able to deduct what they pay in state and local taxes on their federal tax returns. This change alone would take more than $112 billion a year out of the pockets of hardworking Californians — more than any other state. The fact that Californians would be paying more in federal taxes would inevitably put new pressure on our state and municipal governments to reduce their taxes. Under that scenario, it is not hard to imagine a new wave of painful state and local budget cuts.

The irony is that California actually has the power to stop this runaway train. If the entire California congressional delegation worked together to protect their constituents, and if they were united and strong, they could prevent many — if not all — of the worst provisions in the tax bills from becoming law.

This moment is a test of leadership. Nothing less than the health of our people — and our democracy — are at stake.

AARP: Congress must prevent ‘sudden cut’ to Medicare in 2018

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/363825-aarp-congress-must-prevent-sudden-cut-to-medicare-in-2018

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The AARP is urging House and Senate leaders to waive congressional rules so the Republican tax bill doesn’t trigger deep cuts to Medicare.

If Republicans pass their tax bill, which would add an estimated $1 trillion to the federal deficit, congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules would require an immediate $150 billion in mandatory spending cuts to offset the impact.

“The sudden cut to Medicare provider funding in 2018 would have an immediate and lasting impact, including fewer providers participating in Medicare and reduced access to care for Medicare beneficiaries,” AARP said in a letter sent to congressional leaders Thursday.

Under the bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare would be faced with a $25 billion cut in fiscal 2018.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have promised the cuts won’t happen.

In a joint statement sent just ahead of the Senate vote on the tax bill last week, Ryan and McConnell said there is “no reason to believe that Congress would not act again to prevent a sequester, and we will work to ensure these spending cuts are prevented.”

Lawmakers have voted numerous times in the past to waive the rule, and even House conservatives have said they’ll likely support a waiver once the tax bill passes.

“I can’t imagine any scenario where there’s not a waiver for PAYGO,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday. “It’s using a hammer when maybe a scalpel would do.”

But in the Senate at least, Republicans will need the support of Democrats to waive the rules. So far, they have been reluctant to offer it.

 

Healthcare lobbyists not optimistic on changing GOP tax bill

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20171206/NEWS/171209899

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Healthcare lobbyists are scrambling to win changes in congressional Republican tax legislation, as Senate and House GOP leaders race to merge their separate bills into something both chambers can pass on a party-line vote this month.

But provider, insurer and patient advocacy groups doubt they can convince Republicans to remove or soften the provisions they find most objectionable. They say GOP leaders are moving too fast and providing too little opportunity for healthcare stakeholders to provide input.

“It’s a madhouse,” said Julius Hobson, a veteran healthcare lobbyist with the Polsinelli law firm. “What you worry about is this will get done behind closed doors, even before they start the conference committee process.”

One factor that could slow the rush to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the need to pass a continuing resolution this week to fund the federal government and prevent a shutdown. Unlike with the tax bill, Republicans need Democratic support for that, and it’s not clear they’ll make the concessions Democrats are demanding.

Industry lobbyists are particularly targeting provisions in the House and Senate tax bills limiting tax-exempt financing for not-for-profit hospitals and other organizations; repealing the Affordable Care Act’s tax penalty for not buying health insurance; ending corporate tax credits for the cost of clinical trials of orphan drugs; and taxing not-for-profit executive compensation exceeding $1 million.

If the ACA’s insurance mandate is repealed, “our plans will have to evaluate whether they can stay in the individual market or not based on what it does to enrollment and the risk profile of people who choose to stay,” said Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which represents safety net insurers.

AARP and other consumer lobbying groups are fighting to save the household deduction for high healthcare costs, which the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would abolish.

Healthcare lobbyists also are warning lawmakers that capping or ending the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes will force many states to cut Medicaid. Beyond that, they say slashing taxes and increasing the federal deficit will trigger immediate Medicare budget sequestration cuts that would hurt providers and patients, particularly in rural and low-income areas.

“One in three rural hospitals are at financial risk of closure, and sequestration would be devastating for them,” said Maggie Elehwany, vice president of government affairs for the National Rural Health Association. “I’d love to say our message is getting through. But Congress is completely tone-deaf on how troubling the situation in rural America is.”

Hospital groups, led by the American Hospital Association, are battling to preserve tax-exempt bond financing for not-for-profit organizations, which the House bill would zero out. While the Senate bill would keep the tax exemption for interest income on new municipal private activity bonds, both the Senate and House bills would prohibit advance re-funding of prior tax-exempt bond issues.

Hospitals say ending or limiting tax-exempt bond financing would jack up their borrowing costs and hurt their ability to make capital improvements, particularly for smaller and midsize hospital systems. The Wisconsin Hospital Association projected that ending tax-exempt bond financing would increase financing costs by about 25% every year.

According to Merritt Research Services, outstanding end-of-year hospital debt totaled nearly $301 billion in long-term bonds and nearly $21 billion in short-term debt. Nearly all of that debt was issued as tax-exempt bonds.

Suggesting a possible compromise, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday that he saw “a good path going forward” to preserve tax-exempt private activity bonds “that help build and enhance the national infrastructure.”

But Hobson raised questions about Brady’s comments. “What is his definition of infrastructure?” he asked. “It suggests they may move away from a blanket repeal, but it doesn’t tell me where they’re going.”

If Republicans decided not to repeal the tax exemption for municipal bond interest income, however, they would have to scale back some of their pet tax cuts for corporations and wealthy families, even as they feel pressure to ease unpopular provisions such as ending the deductibility of state and local taxes. That could make it hard for hospital lobbyists to gain traction on this issue.

“There are a lot of giveaways in the bills that don’t leave a lot of room to recoup the money you lose,” Hobson said.

Some lobbyists hold out a faint hope that the Republicans’ tax cut effort could collapse as a result of intra-party differences, as did their drive to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

One possibility is that Maine Sen. Susan Collins flips and votes no on the tax cut bill emerging from the conference committee if congressional Republicans fail to pass two bipartisan bills she favors to stabilize the individual insurance market.

Collins said she’s received strong assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump that they will support the bills to restore the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers and establish a new federal reinsurance program that would lower premiums.

But the fate of those bills is in doubt, given that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was noncommittal this week, while House ultraconservatives have come out strongly against them.

Collins conceivably could be joined by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who also said she wants to see the market stabilization bills passed. If Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who voted no on the tax cut bill over deficit concerns, remains opposed, those three GOP senators could sink the tax bill.

“We’d all like to see Collins pull her vote,” Hobson said. “It was always clear that the deal she cut with McConnell won’t fly on the House side.”

One healthcare lobbyist who didn’t want to be named said there may be a deal in the works for House conservatives to support market-stabilization legislation in exchange for lifting budget sequestration caps on military spending.

But healthcare lobbyists are not holding their breath on winning major changes or seeing the tax bill collapse.

“There are chances they won’t reach a deal,” said Robert Atlas, president of EBG Advisors, which is affiliated with the healthcare law firm Epstein Becker Green. “By the same token, Republicans are so determined to pass something that they might just come together.”