Hospitals smallest part of out-of-pocket costs

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We spend more on hospital care than any other type of health care service, but hospitals make up the smallest amount of out-of-pocket spending.

  • That means insurers are passing on a smaller percentage of hospital costs to enrollees, although they indirectly pay for hospital care through premiums.

Between the lines:

  • “A big role of patient cost-sharing is to discourage use of inappropriate or unnecessary services. So much of hospital care is non-discretionary from the perspective of patients,” Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt says.
  • Levitt adds that insurance tends to pay a bigger part of hospital bills versus other services because hospital bills tend to be large, causing patients to blow through their deductible or hit their out-of-pocket maximum.

 

 

20% of Americans are deferring healthcare because of cost, poll finds

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/20-of-americans-are-deferring-healthcare-because-of-cost-poll-finds.html?origin=rcme&utm_source=rcme

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Americans are delaying medical care as they struggle with its affordability, according to the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll.   

The survey of more than 3,000 U.S. households in July found about 20 percent of respondents or someone in their household had postponed or canceled a healthcare service due to cost in the prior three months. 

Younger respondents were more likely to put off their healthcare needs. Thirty-four percent of respondents under 35 said they deterred care because of cost, compared with 8 percent of respondents 65 and older.

The poll also found 26 percent of respondents or someone in their household had difficulty paying for some type of healthcare service in the prior three months.

Again, younger respondents were more likely to experience trouble. Forty-one percent of respondents under 35 said they or a member of their household struggled to pay for a healthcare service, compared to 11 percent of respondents 65 and older and 26 percent of respondents ages 35 to 64.

The poll found 66 percent of respondents said they received a prescription in the prior three months, and 97 percent of those respondents had it filled. Of the respondents who said they had a prescription filled, 19 percent reported they had trouble paying for it.

Access the full poll results here.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Federal Subsidies Could Expand to Health Programs That Violate Obamacare

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 The Trump administration said Thursday that states could bypass major requirements of the Affordable Care Act by using federal funds for a wide range of health insurance programs that do not comply with the law.

Federal officials encouraged states to seek waivers from provisions of the law that specify who is eligible for premium subsidies, how much they get and what medical benefits they receive.

It was “a mistake to federalize so much of health care policy under the Affordable Care Act,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told state officials at a conference in Washington.

The new policy outlined by the administration on Thursday upends a premise of the Affordable Care Act: that federal subsidies can be used only for insurance that meets federal standards and is purchased through public marketplaces, also known as insurance exchanges.

Under the new policy, states could use federal subsidies to help people pay for employer-sponsored insurance. Consumers could combine federal funds with employer contributions to buy other types of insurance.

Under the Affordable Care Act, premium tax credits are available to people with incomes up to four times the poverty level, roughly $83,000 a year for a family of three. With a waiver, states could provide assistance to higher-income families.

The Trump administration laid out templates for state programs — waiver concepts — that could significantly depart from the model enacted by Congress in 2010.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said states could use the suggestions to “create more choices and greater flexibility in their health insurance markets, helping to bring down costs and expand access to care.”

Democrats assailed the initiative as an audacious effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. And they said the administration was ignoring the midterm election success of Democrats who had promised to defend health care that they said was threatened by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.

“The American people just delivered an overwhelming verdict against Republicans’ cruel assault on families’ health care,” said the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California. “But instead of heeding the will of the people or the requirements of the law, the Trump administration is still cynically working to make health insurance more expensive and to leave more Americans without dependable coverage.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the administration was creating a fast lane for swift approval of “junk insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing medical conditions. At campaign rallies this fall, Mr. Trump repeatedly promised: “We will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Always.”

Ms. Verma said Thursday that “the A.C.A.’s pre-existing condition protections cannot be waived.

But states could use federal funds to subsidize short-term plans and “association health plans,” in which employers band together to provide coverage for employees. Such plans are free to limit or omit coverage of benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, such as mental health care, emergency services and prescription drugs.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act allows waivers for innovations in state health policy. The federal law stipulates that state programs must provide coverage that is “at least as comprehensive” as that available under the Affordable Care Act and must cover “at least a comparable number” of people.

Two powerful House Democrats said the new guidance issued by the Trump administration was illegal because it did not meet the standards for waivers set forth in the Affordable Care Act.

“It is contrary to the plain language of the statute, and it appears to be part of the administration’s ideologically motivated efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” said a letter sent to Mr. Azar by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts.

In issuing the guidance, they said, Mr. Azar also violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally requires agencies to provide an opportunity for public comment before adopting new rules.

Republican governors have been pleading with federal officials to give states more authority to regulate health insurance.

Paul Edwards, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, a Republican, said, “Utah welcomes all efforts that give us maximum flexibility to structure our health care programs to the unique needs of our citizens.” State officials “will look closely at how these new rules could benefit Utahns,” he said.

Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican, said the governor “has a proven track record of expanding health care options for Iowans and is eager to see the new opportunities this proposal might open up.”

Iowa tried last year to get a waiver under Obama-era guidance, seeking essentially to opt out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace by offering customers a single plan with lower premiums and a high deductible.

Ms. Reynolds ultimately withdrew the request in frustration, saying at the time that “Obamacare’s waiver rules are as inflexible as the law itself.”

One option for states is to take federal funds and put the money into accounts that consumers could use to pay insurance premiums or medical expenses.

Likewise, Ms. Verma said: “States can develop a new state premium subsidy structure and decide how premium subsidies should be targeted. States can set the rules for what type of health plan is eligible for state premium subsidies.”

She was speaking Thursday at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that promotes limited government and drafts model legislation.

 

New insurance guidelines would undermine rules of the Affordable Care Act

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/new-insurance-guidelines-would-undermine-rules-of-the-affordable-care-act/2018/11/29/ff467f46-f357-11e8-aeea-b85fd44449f5_story.html?utm_term=.c279fcb895a6&wpisrc=al_news__alert-hse–alert-national&wpmk=1

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The Trump administration is urging states to tear down pillars of the Affordable Care Act, demolishing a basic rule that federal insurance subsidies can be used only for people buying health plans in marketplaces created under the law.

According to advice issued Thursday by federal health officials, states would be free to redefine the use of those subsidies, which began in 2014. They represent the first help the government ever has offered middle-class consumers to afford monthly premiums for private insurance.

States could allow the subsidies to be used for health plans the administration has been promoting outside the ACA marketplaces that are less expensive because they provide skimpier benefits and fewer consumer protections. In an even more dramatic change, states could let residents with employer-based coverage set up accounts in which they mingle the federal subsidies with health-care funds from their job or personal tax-deferred savings funds to use for premiums or other medical expenses.

If some states take up the administration’s offer, it would undermine the ACA’s central changes to the nation’s insurance system, including the establishment of nationwide standards for many kinds of health coverage sold in the United States.

Another goal of the ACA, the sprawling 2010 law that was President Barack Obama’s preeminent domestic accomplishment, was to concentrate help on the individual insurance market serving people who do not have access to affordable health benefits through a job. Prices were often out of control and discrimination against unhealthy people was more prevalent before the ACA imposed required benefits, prohibited insurers from charging more to people with preexisting conditions and created a federal health exchange and similar state-run marketplace in which private insurance companies compete for customers.

The ACA health plans have been the only ones for which consumers can use the subsidies, designed to help customers with incomes up to the middle class — 400 percent of the federal poverty line — afford the premiums.

The new advice, called “waiver concepts” because they are ideas for how states could get federal permission to deviate from the law’s basic rules, stray from both of those goals. And it would allow states to set different income limits for the subsidies — higher or lower than the federal one.

The day before they were released by Seema Verma, administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an analysis by the Brookings Institution questioned the legality of the content and method of these concepts. The analysis by Christen Linke Young, a Brookings fellow and HHS employee during the Obama administration, contends that “there are serious questions” about whether the changes are allowable under the law and that “at the very least, it is likely invalid” for CMS to issue the advice to states without going through the formal steps to change federal regulations.

In a statement Thursday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said: “The Trump administration is committed to empowering states to think creatively about how to secure quality, affordable healthcare choices for their citizens.” He said the four recommendations issued Thursday, including new accounts in which consumers could pool federal subsidies and other funds, are intended to “show how state governments can work with HHS to create more choices and greater flexibility in their health insurance markets, helping to bring down costs and expand access to care.”

In a midday speech before a gathering of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Verma delivered a broadside against the health-care law in explaining the rationale for freeing states to rework health policies on their own. “It was such a mistake to federalize so much of health care in the ACA,” said Verma, who worked as a consultant to states before becoming one of Trump’s senior health-care advisers. While the law sought to make health coverage more available and affordable, she said, “the insurance problem has not been solved. For many Americans it’s even been made worse.”

In urging states to consider the changes, CMS is renaming a provision of the law, known as 1332, which until now has mainly been used to give states permission to create programs to ease the burden on insurers of high-cost customers. CMS is switching the name to “State Relief and Empowerment Waivers,” emphasizing the administration’s desire to hand off health-care policies to states.

The changes go beyond a variety of other steps Trump administration health officials have taken in the past year to weaken the ACA, which the president has opposed vociferously.

Until now, they have focused on bending the ACA’s rules for health plans themselves. The administration has rewritten regulations to make it easier for Americans to buy two types of insurance that is relatively inexpensive because it does not contain all the benefits and consumer protections that the ACA typically requires.

The new steps go further by undercutting the basic ACA structure of the individual insurance marketplaces created for those who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

During a conference call with journalists, Verma said that no state would be allowed to retreat from a popular aspect of the ACA that protects people with preexisting medical conditions from higher prices or an inability to buy coverage.

She said that, in evaluating states’ proposals, CMS would focus on several considerations, including whether changes would foster comprehensive coverage and affordability and would not increase the federal deficit. She said federal officials would favor proposals that help, in particular, low-income residents and people with complex medical problems.

Verma reiterated an administration talking point that insurance rates have escalated since the ACA was passed and that health plan choices within ACA marketplaces have dwindled. However, the current ACA enrollment period, lasting until mid-December, is different from the previous few because prices for the most popular tier of coverage have stabilized in many places and more insurers are taking part in the marketplaces.

 

Americans are still struggling with drug costs

https://www.axios.com/americans-struggling-drug-costs-goodrx-0b487b1b-a362-4776-8f43-8b118651d606.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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More than 2 out of 5 Americans say paying for their prescription drugs in the past year was difficult, even though most have health insurance, according to a new survey from GoodRx, a consumer site that compares drug costs.

Why it matters: Drug prices are a top public concern because many people take medications every day and see the toll on their wallets. The survey shows people aren’t really feeling any relief amid the political promises to address the issue.

By the numbers: The GoodRx survey, which mirrors other public tracking polls, found:

  • A third of people have skipped filling a prescription in the last year due to the cost. Rising coinsurance rates and deductibles often are the culprits.
  • Almost 20% of Americans said they’ve had to use money from their savings to pay for their drugs. (Separately, another 12% said they didn’t have any savings to draw from.)
  • The survey got responses from more than 1,000 people, 70% of whom take at least one medication.