Antipating the Impact of the Baby Boom on Medicare

 

 
In perusing the excellent work of the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker project, we recently came across an analysis (depicted on the left, below) of Medicare spending patterns broken down by age of beneficiary. Based on 2014 data, the analysis shows how much was spent per capita in traditional Medicare fee-for-service on beneficiaries of each age. (The analysis excludes Medicare Advantage data, and also doesn’t include beneficiaries aged 65, for whom a full year of spending data wasn’t available.)

What’s interesting is how spending patterns differ across age cohorts—inpatient spending peaks at age 92 and then declines, spending on physician services peaks at age 85, skilled nursing and hospice spending ramp up quickly for much older beneficiaries. To see how these patterns might play out if applied to the Baby Boom generation, we combined the Peterson-Kaiser analysis with our earlier look at generational aging. The result is the chart on the right, below, which shows how each bucket of spending will increase over the coming 25 years given aging of the population.
 
A couple of interesting observations from this (admittedly imperfect) analysis.

First, the sheer size of the baby boom generation will drive a huge increase in Medicare spending over the next 25 years. And a full third or more of the total Medicare spend on Baby Boomers isn’t even captured here—that will come via payments to Medicare Advantage plans.

Second, inpatient care drives a huge amount of the total spend. It’s clear that an urgent priority is finding ways to shift spending from the light grey bars (inpatient) to the other segments—we need to pull forward the shift from inpatient to other settings from where it was in 2014’s population. Recall that this is traditional Medicare—strategies like accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other care management/population health reforms will be critical here.

Finally, in addition to changing the trend with innovations in care delivery models, we should expect technology and pharmaceuticals to play a role in inflecting the shape of this graph. Whether that impact will produce a net savings or a net increase in spending remains to be seen.

How to save $80 billion a year on prescription drugs

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-2b22d854-43a4-481f-aa30-d1b14d859e29.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Illustration of a bill with money print on it.

Medicare could have saved almost $80 billion, just in 2018, by matching the U.K.’s prices for prescription drugs that don’t have any competition, according to a new study released in Health Affairs yesterday.

Why it matters: Medicare’s drug benefit was designed to keep prices in check through competition. But competition doesn’t always exist, and the U.S. doesn’t have many options to keep prices down in those cases.

  • Unlike the other three countries examined in the study, the U.S. doesn’t regulate drug prices.

Details: This study focuses on a group of single-source brand-name drugs in Medicare Part D that have been on the market for at least 3 years. Researchers compared U.S. prices for those drugs to prices in the U.K., Japan and Ontario.

  • On average, after accounting for rebates, Medicare paid 3.6 times more than the U.K., 3.2 times more than Japan, and 4.1 times more than Ontario.
  • The longer a drug was on the U.S. market, the larger that gap grew.
  • If Medicare Part D had adopted the average price from those countries, it would have saved an estimated $72.9 billion on sole-source drugs in 2018 alone.

Between the lines: The Trump administration wants to rely on international prices for Medicare Part B, which covers drugs administered in a doctor’s office. But this study shows that there are also a lot of savings to be had in Medicare Part D, which covers drugs you pick up at a pharmacy.

The other side: “An international reference pricing system could result in American seniors losing access to their choice of medicine, and waiting years longer for new breakthrough treatments,” the trade group PhRMA said in a statement.

The bottom line: The political interest in cutting drug prices is real, but we’re still a very long way from President Trump’s stated goal of matching other countries’ prices.

 

The CBO analyzed what it would take to shift to a single-payer system. Here are 5 takeaways

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/5-takeaways-from-cbo-s-analysis-a-single-payer-system?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTURRNU5HTmpZbU5tT1RFeiIsInQiOiJLcVdxN0dKUU5iaEdMTGtaMG9xbFdtdEgxdXJBbndhTUNyMWN6UTZzbGJhTHFkS3Z4eTRBZkFGNUxcLzlyZUxvMHpOUDRDbmptdGE4aHVoMk4wS1NTYUlWMFVPMmFxNEEzTkJcL1RDODhYa3psN0VkNFhFdTVqYjlDSHltaTdPMUFxIn0%3D&mrkid=959610

Image result for congressional budget office

As chatter about “Medicare-for-All” ideas heats up—at least among the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls—the Congressional Budget Office decided to offer its own take.

Well, sort of.

Wednesday, the CBO issued a report that dove into the key considerations policymakers might want to think about before they overhaul the U.S. healthcare into a single-payer system. Putting it mildly, they said, the endeavor would be a “major undertaking.”

They don’t actually offer up specific cost estimates on any of the Medicare-for-All bills floating around, though other researchers put Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan at between $32.6 trillion and $38.8 trillion over the first decade.

But the CBO analysts did weigh in on a slew of different approaches to financing, coverage, enrollment and reimbursement that could be built into a single-payer plan.

“Establishing a single-payer system would be a major undertaking that would involve substantial changes in the sources and extent of coverage, provider payment rates and financing methods of healthcare in the United States,” the CBO said.

So what exactly did the CBO have to say about what it would take to create a single-payer system? Here are some key takeaways:

1. There could be a role for private insurance—or not

There has been plenty of heated debate around Medicare for All focused on the role that existing private coverage could—or could not—play in that system. Most insured Americans are enrolled in a private plan today, including about one-third of Medicare beneficiaries.

If they’re allowed, commercial plans could play one of three roles in a single-payer system, according to the report: as supplemental coverage, as an alternative plan or to offer “enhanced” services to members in the government plan. 

Allowing private insurers to offer substitutive plans is unlikely, because they could potentially offer broader provider networks or more generous benefits, which would draw people into them. A solution to this issue could be mandating that providers treat a minimum number of patients who are enrolled in a single-payer plan.

Private payers could also offer coverage for care that is traditionally outside of the purview of government programs, such as dental care, vision care and hearing care.

Supplemental plans like these are offered in the existing Medicare program, and several countries with single-payer systems allow this additional coverage.

For example, in England, private plans offer “enhancements” to members of the government plan, including shorter wait times and access to alternative therapies, But members of these plans must pay for it in addition to tax contributions to the country’s National Health Service. 

2. Other government programs could stick around

In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government operates several health programs targeting individual populations: the Veterans Affairs health system, TRICARE and Indian Health Services.

A single-payer system could be designed in a way that also maintains these individualized programs, the CBO said. Canada does this today, where its provinces operate the national system while it offers specific programs outside that for indigenous people, veterans, federal police officers and others.

There could also be a continuing role for Medicaid, according to the report. 

“Those public programs were created to serve populations with special needs,” the CBO said. “Under a single-payer system, some components of those programs could continue to operate separately and provide benefits for services not covered by the single-payer health plan.”

On the flip side, though, a single-payer plan could choose to fold members of those programs into the broader, national program as well, the office said. 

3. A simplified system could also mean simplified tech

Taiwan’s government-run health system has a robust technology system that can monitor patients’ use of services and healthcare costs in near real-time, according to the report.  

Residents are issued a National Health Insurance card that can store key information about them, including personal identifiers, recent visits for care, what prescriptions they use and any chronic conditions they may have.  Providers also submit daily data updates to a government databank on service use, which is used to closely monitor utilization and cost. Other technology platforms in Taiwan can track prescription drug use and patients’ medical histories.

However, getting to a streamlined system like this in the U.S. would be bumpy, the CBO said. It would face many of the same challenges the health system is already up against today, such as straddling many federal and state agencies and addressing the needs of both rural and urban providers.

But the payoffs could be significant, according to the report. 

“A standardized IT system could help a single-payer system coordinate patient care by implementing portable electronic medical records and reducing duplicated services,” the agency wrote. 

4. How to structure payments to providers? Likely global budgets

Most existing single-payer systems use a global budget to pay providers, and may also apply in tandem other payment approaches such as capitation or bundled payments according to the report.

How these global budgets operate varies between countries. Canada’s hospitals operate under such a model, while Taiwan sets a national healthcare budget and then issues fee-for-service payments to individual providers. England also uses a national global budget.

Global budgets are rare in the U.S., though Maryland hospitals operate under an all-payer system. These models put more of the financial risk on providers to keep costs within the budget constraints. 

Many international single-payer systems pay based on volume, but the CBO said value-based contracting could be built into any of these payment arrangements.

5. Premiums and cost-sharing are still in play, especially depending on tax structures

A government-run health system would, by its nature, need to be funded by tax dollars, but some countries with a single-payer system do charge premiums or other cost-sharing to offset some of those expenditures.

Canada and England operate on general tax revenues, while Taiwan and Denmark include other types of financing. Danes pay a dedicated, income tax to back the health system, while the Taiwanese have a payroll-based premium. 

The type of tax considered would have different implications on financing, according to the CBO. A progressive tax rate, for instance, would impose higher levies on people with higher incomes, while a consumption tax, such as one added to cigarettes, would affect people more evenly.

Policymakers will also have to weigh when to impose new taxes, shifting the economic burden between generations. 

The CBO did not offer any cost estimates in terms of the amount the federal government would need to raise in taxes to fund a single-payer program.

 

 

 

Truth #5 – Costs To Operate Medicare Are Not Lower Than Private Insurance Plans

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/truth-5-costs-operate-medicare-lower-than-private-plans-weinberg/

By Denny Weinberg

Another favorite topic at the heart of the US healthcare debate is whether governments can run health insurance programs at lower operating costs than private insurance companies.

Two Sides Square Off

Private Industry Supporters: Some argue that governments regularly prove incompetent running large complex operations at a low costs. Regularly cited is the US mail system and the VA; more locally, public schools and DMV’s. And in the case of Medicare and Medicaid, something about these programs appears to set up a breeding ground for costly fraud and theft, they might argue. Finally, this group argues that competition inherently creates innovation, productivity and lower unit operating costs, something that does not naturally occur with government programs.

Government Supporters: On the other side, many argue that the sheer scale of a single program like Medicare creates consistency and low unit costs, the result of economies of scale. Further, that by extending that program to even more Americans, those scale economies will improve more. This group argues that the profit motive of private companies can only result in higher costs, not lower, enriching investors and executives.

What Do The Numbers Say?

As I researched this point, I found that cost effectiveness arguments between Medicare and Private Insurance is an old one, with each side pretty dug in. But there are some important themes associated with the underlying math.

Comparing Costs vs Percentages:

Government program supporters like to compare operating costs using percentages. The common percentage used is “operating cost as a percent of medical services”. They Argue that Medicare costs only about 2%-3% of the costs of medical services paid. They will further argue that private health plan costs are, by comparison anywhere from 10% to 25% of the costs of medical services they pay. Their conclusion is, “Medicare has far lower operating costs, and is therefore the much more efficient program.”

Private market supporters dispute this “percentage comparison”, and instead look at “operating costs $’s per capita” and compare those. They argue that when compared in this $ per capita measure, monthly Medicare operational costs are well over $100 per capita, while monthly private insurance cost of operations are well less than $100 per capita. Their conclusion is, “Private market providers have far lower operating costs, and are therefore much more efficient than Medicare”.

Why Is This Comparison Of Operating Costs of Medicare and the Private Market So Difficult?

1) As much as 50% of all US healthcare occurs in the last few months of a person’s life. This dynamic is a major driver of Medicare Coverage and its operating costs. It is far less of a driver of private healthcare coverage for younger and mostly working Americans and the related operating costs, confusing the comparisons.

2) Many diseases of aging are much more common in Medicare than in private health coverages. The most expensive is Kidney Care, and ultimately transplant or Dialysis, (which has its own category in Medicare). Beyond that, Cancers, Heart Disease, Dementia/Alzheimer’s and others are far more significant drivers of continuing costs for those covered by Medicare than those on private insurance coverages at younger ages, confusing the comparisons.

3) Workplace related coverages more often coordinate coverage with workers compensation, or even car and homeowners insurance coverages than those with Medicare Coverages. This produces different operating costs and medical coverages under the private health coverages, confusing the comparisons.

4) Private Insurance coverages are or have been subject to significant state Premium Taxes and other health care related state and federal taxes. These are often categorized as “Operating Costs” in comparisons, confusing the comparisons.

5) Some comparisons don’t capture all government expenses that support the Medicare program, perhaps to advantage this argument. Examples of services performed for Medicare by other parts of the government that aren’t accounted for: The Social Security Administration collects premiums, the Internal Revenue Service collects taxes for the program, the F.B.I. provides fraud prevention services, and at least seven other federal agencies and departments also do work that benefits Medicare, confusing the comparisons.

6) As pointed out in previous installments, a large and rapidly increasing portion of the Medicare eligible population opts out of traditional Medicare and purchases a Private Plan alternative from private companies. This is now approximately 40%. Operating costs are imbedded in the coverage price and not easily separated for purposes of comparison any longer, confusing the comparisons.

Conclusion?

As some of this discussion indicates, it is nearly impossible to formulate a clear comparison between Medicare operating costs and “the private market”. However, it also appears unlikely that the original Medicare Program administration, when properly compared, is more efficient than the highly competitive private market. That market now provides many low price, high value alternatives for rapidly growing number of Medicare eligibles. It is those same private market players who provide specialized solutions for younger and more often working American families at lower per capita costs than the Medicare Program, the measure that this writer is moved to support.

 

 

Truth #4; Medicare-For-All; Elected Officials and Government Employees Will Lead?

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/truth-4-medicare-for-all-elected-officials-government-denny-weinberg/

To our elected officials and government workers re: Medicare-For-All. “If it’s so great, why aren’t YOU part of the Medicare program today?”

Lets take a quick look at who these government workers are and to what extent they have been the leaders in single payer programs so far.

Federal Government Workers

There are roughly 2 million federal workers in the US today. They and their families participate in a health benefits program created in 1960 just for them (the FEHBP). Interestingly, the FEHBP is not a government run single payer system, but arguably, the opposite. It’s a mostly open marketplace to over 200 private market HMO, PPO and other options from nearly every Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan and many other local and major managed care companies such as Aetna, Humana and United HealthCare.

When federal workers reach age 65, most choose continuing their FEHBP alternative, because it offers great local and national private options that are just a better deal than the single payer Medicare option. Once they actually do retire, workers can continue to choose to apply their Medicare subsidies to alternatives to Medicare that I have talked about in previous posts from the same private insurance company vendors they currently have, with little disruption.

State and Local Government Workers

There are roughly 4.5 Mil workers of each of the states, with coverage structures as varied as the number of states. Beyond that, another 14 Mil workers are associated with local governments, cities and counties and their health coverages even more varied.

Virtually all have unique programs providing multiple PPO and HMO and other coverages from a variety of private health insurance vendors. Those workers over ages 65, typically remain with those private health plans just as they did when they were younger. For retirees, today often older than age 65, the options are too varied for this article. But suffice it to say, they too have many private market alternatives or wraparound options to the Traditional Medicare program, and many opt for those.

Medicare-For-All; Will Federal, State and Local Government Workers Lead The Way?

So government workers and retirees participate in private insurance programs in much the same way way as the rest of us. As such, it would appear that if Medicare were “switched on” as the sole solution for health care coverage, all these government workers would be as impacted as everyone else, and might have similar responses, both positive and negative.

It seems that time and political realities will indicate whether government workers themselves would support a single source for their health care options, defined by the government, without the benefit of private market wrap-arounds or alternatives.

 

 

 

Truth #3: Medicare is Not “Free”

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/truth-3-medicare-free-denny-weinberg/

by Denny Weinberg

Someone Is Paying For The Whole Thing, You Know

The “Free-ness” of Medicare, like many other commodities, comes down to two important metrics discussed here; Cost, and Price.

Cost:

  • Costs for Medicare include all payments to hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, labs, imaging centers, etc.
  • Costs for Medicare also include amounts paid to 12 private companies contracted regionally to manage and administer the Medicare Program. (i.e. claims, payments, providers, appeals, inquiries, education, medical records, etc). These critical administrative functions have been outsourced to the insurance industry and its affiliates for many years.
  • Finally, Medicare costs include payments to dozens of private insurance companies who provide private alternatives to Medicare, such as Medicare Advantage PPO’s and HMO’s.

Price:

  • Current projections are that Medicare costs will increase about 5% per year and prices will have to increase much more than that to keep the program from insolvency in the next few years.
  • Most adult Americans (including many that are also beneficiaries) pay varying portions of this price through special taxes, depending upon their type and amount of income.
  • If a Medicare beneficiary has also chosen to take Social Security income (most do), varying portions of that price are mandatorily deducted from that Social Security income as well, automatically.

So What Does It Really Cost and How Much Is The Real Price?

In 2017, the Medicare program made over $700 Billion in Payments to private insurance administrators and care providers for Traditional Medicare or for alternatives (Medicare Advantage). That year, about 58 Mil beneficiaries were enrolled in the program. The result is a cost for each Beneficiary of just over $1,000 per month. In 2019 that cost and related price will both be higher due to inflation.

But the beneficiary share of that price also varies widely based upon several factors. Those include income, the number of qualifying years of employment and whether Part B or Part D (coverage for Doctors and Prescriptions) is chosen or waived. (This will be further offset by the amount [if any] of Social Security income deducted first).

Given all that, Medicare Prices for 2019 range as follows:

No alt text provided for this image

So Is Medicare Free?

When you consider a program that on average costs over $1,000 per beneficiary per month …

… Then knowing that a substantial part of the needed price is covered by the tax on virtually all workers and other income earners …

… and since many beneficiaries may not rationalize the substantial dollars being stripped away from the (unrelated) Social Security payments to help pay their share of the price

… and considering that a material number of beneficiaries have incomes over $85,000 per year (many still work) …

… and finally, comparing all the components of coverage Americans have received when younger and working (Hospital, Physician and Prescriptions) …

… These numbers, taken together, for many people are certainly not free.

 

 

 

Truth #2: Medicare Coverage May Not Be As “Good”​ As You Expected

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/truth-2-medicare-coverage-may-good-you-expected-denny-weinberg/

Denny Weinberg

Background

In the mid 1960’s, Medicare was first created as a “Social Insurance Program”, designed to be consistently applied to all older Americans. Comprehensive, inexpensive, and relevant to the standards-of-care at the time, this was considered “Good” Coverage.

But the passing of years unveiled a multitude of unanticipated dynamics.

  • For example, the very definition of “health care” has both broadened and deepened materially since 1965. The first MRI or the first Angioplasty would not occur until a decade later.
  • Meanwhile, the age-65 life expectancy has expanded by nearly 50% since then, exposing the medical system to care demands and opportunities never contemplated, late in life.
  • While care technology, science and processes have responded to this expanding demand, they brought with them dramatically accelerating costs, year after year.
  • Finally, political pressures to respond to special populations, including dialysis patients, or emerging care settings like home health or hospice, or even outpatient prescription drugs… all resulted in substantial Medicare Program scope creep.

So it should not be surprising that since inception, Medicare COVERAGE itself has required regular, often dramatic modifications to keep its “social insurance purpose” in balance with these and other continually changing demands. Some of that pressure has even challenged the highly protected “social Insurance” model itself:

  • By the early 2000’s, these pressures yielded to means-based-pricing for seniors of varying income levels
  • A 2013 survey of Americans over age 65 revealed “raising the age of eligibility to 67” as the second most popular to reduce costs and improve long term viability.

Americans Are Not Very Informed About Medicare

Most Americans (even beneficiaries) are not really aware of the full effect of these sequential program changes, because they have been spread out over many years. After all, the Medicare program has been around for 50 years, but most beneficiaries participate for less than a dozen years. So, many assume this program has been stable and managable year after year, with surprising simplicity and effectiveness. But Medicare Coverage is not at all what it was 50 years ago.

Consider a small number of coverage dynamics between the late 1960’s and today:

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Other coverage details and provisions have had to change along the way too, few offsetting the additional copayments, co-insurance, annual and lifetime limits or out-of-pocket cost exposure for beneficiaries.

Could Today’s Medicare Even Work Without The Private Market?

These exposures explain why most Medicare beneficiaries are compelled to purchase a supplemental private insurance plan to cover those costs not covered by today’s Medicare. Such private plans are called Medicare Supplement Plans, and they have been increasingly necessary as the exposures under the Traditional Medicare program have grown over the years. But they too have become expensive due to the the increasing uncovered portions of Medicare. Over the years, the average Medicare Supplement has increased in price from less than $20 per month in the 1980’s to a few Hundred dollars per month today.

Alternatively, Medicare beneficiaries today can choose to leave Traditional Medicare altogether, and apply their “benefit equivalent eligibility” to the purchase of an alternative from a private Insurance company. These programs, called Medicare Advantage Plans, attract nearly 1/3 of all Medicare Beneficiaries who simply can’t make Traditional Medicare pencil out.

So What Does This Mean?

Most of the Medicare-For-All proposals don’t advertise the high coverage gaps in the current model, and the dependency on either a private market supplement (Medicare Supplement Plans), or private market alternative (Medicare Advantage Plans). Without these, Medicare-For-All will be woefully inadequate to meet the coverage expectations of Americans. Alternatively, Medicare-For-All proposals could completely re-invent what Medicare is , increasing its coverage and raising its price substantially.

Either way, it is going to cost a lot of money.