Health care spending is more than just the parts you see

https://www.axios.com/understanding-health-care-spending-46e21c47-79ee-474b-80ff-778a705cdcae.html

Illustration of a red cross spinning to reveal money

People focus on the health costs that are most tangible and sometimes outrageous to them: their deductibles, and drug costs, and surprise medical bills, and the annual increase in the share of the premium they pay. But there’s more that gets less attention because it’s not as visible to them.

Why it matters: To really understand how Medicare for All or any other big change in health care financing would affect them, people need to understand how they would impact their overall family health budgets. Few people think about the other health costs they pay: their taxes to support health care, or what their employers are paying towards premiums (which is depressing their wages).

Between the lines: Consider this hypothetical example of a total family health “budget”:

  • The Browns, a family of four with at least one member in poor health and a $50,000 income, have standard employer coverage much like 156 million other Americans. They spend $9,250 per year (19% of their income) on health.
  • This includes $3,950 (8% of their income) in out-of-pocket health spending, $3,900 (8% of their income) in health insurance premiums, and, although they are almost certainly not aware of it, approximately $1,400 (3% of their income) in state and federal taxes that fund health programs.
  • The Browns are not taxed on the contributions their employer makes toward health insurance premiums, which economists generally say offset wages. Their employer is contributing an additional $13,050 to their health insurance premiums, as well as $750 in Medicare payroll taxes.
  • When combined, the Brown’s spending on health care and the money spent by their employer on their behalf totals a considerable $23,050. And remember, they make $50,000.

A few ideas that could help people learn more about their health total care spending and how reform proposals might affect their health spending:

  • The IRS and states could include a simple pie chart on everyone’s tax forms, showing taxpayers where their tax dollars go today.
  • Along with estimating the impact of health reform legislation on the federal budget, or the number of uninsured, the CBO could estimate its impact on typical family budgets, taking into account all of the forms of health spending families have today. Organizations like ours could do this as well.

What to watch: This could be particularly important when analyzing Medicare for All proposals, since they would so significantly alter the financing of health care by shifting it from premiums and out-of-pocket costs to taxes.

  • A Medicare for All plan would likely reduce what the nation spends on health care by lowering payment rates to providers and creating administrative efficiencies. The average family would likely pay less, but how much is hard to say without more details.
  • However, by changing the financing so significantly, there would likely be both winners and losers. Low-income people and sick people might pay less, and higher-income people and those who are healthy could pay more.

The bottom line: We can only get a clear picture of how family finances would be affected by Medicare for All, or any other significant overhaul of the health care system, by looking at the totality of what they pay now.

 

 

KFF Health Tracking Poll – January 2019: The Public On Next Steps For The ACA And Proposals To Expand Coverage

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kff-health-tracking-poll-january-2019/?utm_source=The+Weekly+Gist&utm_campaign=457a985c2e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_01_25_01_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_edba0bcee7-457a985c2e-41271793

Key Findings:

  • Half of the public disapproves of the recent decision in Texas v. United States, in which a federal judge ruled that the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional and should not be in effect. While the judge’s ruling is broader than eliminating the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, this particular issue continues to resonate with the public. Continuing the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions ranks among the public’s top health care priorities for the new Congress, along with lowering prescription drug costs.
  • This month’s KFF Health Tracking Poll continues to find majority support (driven by Democrats and independents) for the federal government doing more to help provide health insurance for more Americans. One way for lawmakers to expand coverage is by broadening the role of public programs. Nearly six in ten (56 percent) favor a national Medicare-for-all plan, but overall net favorability towards such a plan ranges as high as +45 and as low as -44 after people hear common arguments about this proposal.

    Poll: Majorities favor a range of proposed options to expand public health coverage, including Medicare buy-in and #MedicareForAll 

  • Larger majorities of the public favor more incremental changes to the health care system such as a Medicare buy-in plan for adults between the ages of 50 and 64 (77 percent), a Medicaid buy-in plan for individuals who don’t receive health coverage through their employer (75 percent), and an optional program similar to Medicare for those who want it (74 percent). Both the Medicare buy-in plan and Medicaid buy-in plan also garner majority support from Republicans (69 percent and 64 percent­).

 

Figure 1: Most Americans Are Unaware Of Federal Judge’s Ruling That ACA Is No Longer Valid

Texas v. United States: The Future of the Affordable Care Act

On December 14, 2018, a federal district court judge in Texas issued a ruling challenging the future of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA).The judge sided with Republican state attorneys general and ruled that, since the 2017 tax bill passed by Congress zeroed out the penalty for not having health insurance, the ACA is invalid. Democrat attorneys general have already taken actions to appeal the judge’s ruling in the case and, due to the government shutdown, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has paused the case. Currently, the ACA remains the law of the land. If this ruling is upheld, the consequences will be far-reaching.1 Less than half of the public (44 percent) are aware of the judge’s ruling that the ACA is unconstitutional and most (55 percent) either incorrectly say that the judge ruled in favor of the ACA (20 percent) or are unsure (35 percent).

Overall, a larger share of the public disapprove (51 percent) than approve (41 percent) of the judge’s ruling that the ACA is not constitutional. This is largely divided by party identification with a majority of Republicans (81 percent) approving of the decision while a majority of Democrats disapproving (84 percent). Independents are closely divided (49 percent disapprove v. 44 percent approve).

Figure 2: Partisans Divided On Whether They Approve Or Disapprove Of Federal Judge’s Ruling That The ACA Is No Longer Valid

The Trump administration had originally announced that as part of Texas v. United States, it would no longer defend the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. While the judge’s ruling was broader than just the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections, KFF polling finds attitudes can shift when the public hears that these protections may no longer exist. Among those who originally approve of the federal judge’s ruling, about three in ten (13 percent of the public overall) change their mind after hearing that this means that people with pre-existing conditions may have to pay more for coverage or could be denied coverage, bringing the share who disapprove of the judge’s ruling to nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public.2

Fewer – but still about one-fifth (8 percent of total) – change their minds after hearing that as a result of this decision, young adults would no longer be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, bringing the total share who disapprove of the judge’s ruling to 60 percent.

Figure 3: Majorities Disapprove Of Judge’s Ruling After Hearing How It Impacts Protections For Pre-Existing Conditions And Young Adults

Overall, a slight majority of the public hold a favorable view of the ACA (51 percent) while four in ten continue to hold unfavorable views. (INTERACTIVE)

Public’s Views of Democratic Health Care Agenda

With the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, this month’s KFF Health Tracking Poll examines the public’s view of Congressional health care priorities including a national health plan.

Proposals to Expand Health Care Coverage

Most of the public favor the federal government doing more to help provide health insurance for more Americans and one way for lawmakers to expand coverage is by broadening the role of public programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking public opinion on the idea of a national health plan since 1998 (see slideshow). More than twenty years ago, about four in ten Americans (42 percent) favored a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan. In the decades that followed, there has been a modest increase in support – especially since the 2016 presidential election and Bernie Sanders’ rallying cry for “Medicare-for-all.” The most recent KFF Health Tracking Poll finds 56 percent of the public favor “a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare-for-all, where all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan” with four in ten (42 percent) opposing such a plan.

Figure 5: Majorities Across Partisans Favor Medicare Buy-In And Medicaid Buy-In

MALLEABILITY IN ATTITUDES TOWARDS NATIONAL HEALTH PLAN AND LINGERING CONFUSION ABOUT POSSIBLE IMPACTS

This month’s KFF Health Tracking Poll finds the net favorability of attitudes towards a national Medicare-for-all plan can swing significantly, depending on what arguments the public hears.

Depending on what arguments people hear, the public’s views of #MedicareForAll can swing from 71% in favor to 70% opposed highlighting the importance of any future legislative debate 

Net favorability towards a national Medicare-for-all plan (measured as the share in favor minus the share opposed) starts at +14 percentage points and ranges as high as +45 percentage points when people hear the argument that this type of plan would guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans. Net favorability is also high (+37 percentage points) when people hear that this type of plan would eliminate all premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs. Yet, on the other side of the debate, net favorability drops as low as -44 percentage points when people hear the argument that this would lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments. Net favorability is also negative if people hear it would threaten the current Medicare program (-28 percentage points), require most Americans to pay more in taxes (-23 percentage points), or eliminate private health insurance companies (-21 percentage points).

Figure 8: Four In Ten Say Medicare-For-All Plan Would Not Have Much Impact On People Like Them

MEDICARE-FOR-ALL AND SENIORS

On October 10th, 2018, President Trump wrote an op-ed in USA Today arguing that a Medicare-for-all plan would “end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits they have paid for their entire lives.”3 One-fourth of adults 65 and older (26 percent) say seniors who currently get their insurance through Medicare would be “worse off” if a national Medicare-for-all plan was put into place. Four in ten Republicans, ages 65 and older, say seniors who currently get health coverage through Medicare would be “worse off” under a national Medicare-for-all plan. Overall, a larger share of the public say a Medicare-for-all plan will “not have much impact” on seniors (39 percent) or say that they would be “better off” (33 percent) than say seniors would be “worse off” (21 percent).

Figure 10: Democrats Want House Democrats To Focus On Improving And Protecting The ACA Rather Than Passing Medicare-For-All

PARTISANS HAVE DIFFERENT HEALTH PRIORITIES FOR CONGRESS, EXCEPT FOR PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICES

A majority of the public say it is either “extremely important” or “very important” that Congress work on lowering prescription drug costs for as many Americans as possible (82 percent), making sure the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions continue (73 percent), and protecting people with health insurance from surprise high out-of-network medical bills (70 percent). Fewer – about four in ten – say repealing and replacing the ACA (43 percent) and implementing a national Medicare-for-all plan (40 percent) are an “extremely important” or “very important” priority. When forced to choose the top Congressional health care priorities, the public chooses continuing the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections (21 percent) and lowering prescription drug cost (20 percent) as the most important priorities for Congress to work on. Smaller shares choose implementing a national Medicare-for-all plan (11 percent), repealing and replacing the ACA (11 percent), or protecting people from surprise medical bills (9 percent) as a top priority. One-fourth said none of these health care issues was their top priority for Congress to work on.

Figure 11: Continuing ACA Pre-Existing Conditions Protections And Prescription Drug Costs Top Public’s Priorities For Congress

Continuing the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections is the top priority for Democrats (31 percent) and ranks among the top priorities for independents (24 percent) along with lowering prescription drug costs, but ranks lower among Republicans (11 percent). Similar to previous KFF Tracking Polls, repealing and replacing the ACA remains one of the top priority for Republicans (27 percent) along with prescription drug costs (20 percent).

Table 1: Pre-Existing Condition Protections and Prescription Drug Costs Top Public’s Health Care Priorities for Congress; Republicans Still Focused on ACA Repeal
Percent who say the following is the top priority for Congress to work on: Total Democrats Independents Republicans
Making sure the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections continue 21% 31% 24% 11%
Lowering prescription drug costs for as many Americans as possible 20 20 20 20
Implementing a national Medicare-for-all plan 11 20 8 3
Repealing and replacing the ACA 11 3 7 27
Protecting people from surprise high out-of-network medical bills 9 4 10 8
Note: If more than one priority was chosen as “extremely important,” respondent was forced to choose which priority was the “most important.”

The Role of Independents in the Democratic Health Care Debate

One of the major narratives coming out of the 2018 midterm elections was the role that health care was playing in giving Democratic candidates the advantage in close Congressional races. Consistently throughout the election cycle, KFF polling found health care as the top campaign issue for both Democratic and independent voters. While a majority of Democrats want the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to focus on improving and protecting the ACA, Democratic-leaning independents have more divided opinions of the future of 2010 health care law. These individuals – who tend to be younger and male – would rather Democrats in Congress focus efforts on passing a national Medicare-for-all plan (54 percent) than improving the ACA (39 percent) – which is counter to what Democrats overall report. In addition, when asked whether House Democrats owe it to their voters to begin debating proposals aimed at passing a national health plan or work on health care legislation that can be passed with a divided Congress and a Republican President, Democrats are divided (49 percent v. 44 percent) while Democratic-leaning independents prioritize House Democrats working on bipartisan health care legislation (53 percent) over debating national health plan proposals (39 percent).

 

8 things for healthcare executives to note in 2019

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/2018-the-year-that-was-8-things-for-healthcare-executives-to-note-in-2019.html?origin=bhre&utm_source=bhre

Image result for 2019 healthcare trends

Hospital executives quit on the spot. Corporate giants took healthcare into their own hands. Flu hit the country hard. Nurses wanted to cut ties with Facebook. These and four other events and trends shaped the year in healthcare — and the lessons executives can take from them into 2019.

Flu-related deaths hit 40-year high

Roughly 80,000 Americans died of flu and related complications last winter, according to the CDC, along with a record-breaking estimate of 900,000 hospitalizations. That made 2017-18 the deadliest flu season since 1976, the date of the first published paper reporting total seasonal flu deaths, according to the CDC’s Kristen Nordlund.

The milestone flu season reflected a couple of trends. No. 1: Fee-for-service remains the dominant payment model in healthcare. Flu-related hospitalizations triggered financial gains for health systems and hospital networks. No. 2: A deadly flu season gave more weight to concerns about a flu pandemic, which weighs heavily on the minds of CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, and Bill Gates, among others.

JP Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon rocks healthcare

Not even one month into 2018, three corporate giants combined forces to lower healthcare costs for 1.2 million workers. Since the Jan. 30 announcement, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase made several important hires: Surgeon, writer and policy wonk Atul Gawande, MD, started work as CEO of the health venture July 9. Soon after, Jack Stoddard, general manager for digital health at Comcast Corp., was appointed COO. More questions than answers remain about this corporate healthcare disruption, including how extensively the new entrants will redesign healthcare for their employees and how much they will collaborate with traditional healthcare providers.

While Dr. Gawande and Mr. Stoddard continue to build their healthcare-centric team to pursue an ambitious mission, remarks from a member of the old guard illustrate the frustration fueling these corporate giants’ foray into healthcare. “A lot of the medical care we do deliver is wrong — so expensive and wrong,” Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said in a May interview with CNBC. “It’s ridiculous. A lot of our medical providers are artificially prolonging death so they can make more money.”

While someone briefed on the undertaking said the alliance does not plan to replace existing health insurers or hospitals, it will be fascinating to see how this partnership forces legacy providers to behave differently. Chief executives Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos are clearly dissatisfied with the way their employees’ healthcare has been accessed, delivered and priced to date.

Sudden executive resignations

The practice of two-week notice became less standard for hospital and health system leaders this year — especially CEOs. Becker’s covers roughly 100 executive moves per month, and the rate at which we wrote about executives abruptly leaving their hospitals in 2018 stood out from the norm. Executives normally provide ample notice of their departure from an organization, much more than the baseline of two weeks that’s expected for any industry or occupation. But in 2018 many more executives resigned immediately, withholding explanation for their sudden departure or bound by non-disclosures to keep it confidential. For the first time, we began publishing round-ups of executives who departed with little notice. Two months into the year, we had nearly a dozen to report.

Healthcare consistently has a high executive turnover rate — 18 percent in 2017. But 2018 was a year in which leadership churn became even more volatile with the swift and mysterious nature of executive exits. The uptick in unexplained resignations occurred during the #MeToo movement, but we don’t have the right information to draw any correlation between them. The frequency of “effective immediately” resignations will normalize this practice if it persists in 2019, which could prove detrimental to hospitals for a host of reasons. Transparency is important in healthcare; highly paid executives quietly walking away from their posts does not bode well for community affairs or physician engagement. It goes back to a lesson from media relations 101: “No comment” is the worst comment.

Health system-backed drug company receives warm welcome

Several leading health systems kicked off 2018 by uniting to create a nonprofit, independent, generic drug company named Civica Rx to fight high drug prices and chronic shortages. The pharmaceutical entrant — backed by Intermountain Healthcare, HCA Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Catholic Health Initiatives, Providence St. Joseph Health, SSM Health and Trinity Health — is led by CEO Martin Van Trieste, former chief quality officer for biotech giant Amgen. The company’s focus will be a group of 14 generic drugs, administered to patients in hospitals, that have been in short supply and increasingly expensive in recent years. The consortium has declined to name the drugs in development, but said it expects to have its first products on the market as early as 2019.

Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison, MD, exercised measure when describing the new drug company’s mission, noting that responsible pharmaceutical companies will fair fine, but those that have been unprincipled in the past with price increases or supply issues should watch out. Civica Rx may be starting with 14 drugs, but it has noted that there are nearly 200 generics it considers essential that have experienced shortages and price hikes.

Based on reactions from providers and on The Hill, the potential for Civica Rx to quickly gain participants and policy advocates seems rich. For instance, even before Civica Rx applied to the FDA for permission to manufacture drugs, the idea of the company caught hospitals’ interest nationwide. Dr. Harrison said approximately 120 healthcare companies — representing about one-third of hospitals in the U.S. — contacted Civica Rx organizers with interest in participating. Furthermore, lawmakers and regulators were quick to throw support behind the venture even though Congress has done little to get drug pricing under control. Dr. Harrison noted to Modern Healthcare that, as of November 2018, the collaborative “received tremendous bipartisan encouragement from elected officials and from regulatory agencies to continue with our efforts.”

Guns and shootings cemented as a healthcare issue

Gun violence was never outside the realm of health and wellness, but in 2018 the medical community passionately declared the issue as one within their jurisdiction. When the National Rifle Association tweeted Nov. 7 that “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane,” physicians were quick to respond with detailed, graphic stories and images of their encounters treating the aftermath of gun violence. The #ThisIsOurLane social media movement coincided with tragedy Nov. 19, when a man fatally shot a physician, pharmacist and police officer in Mercy Hospital in Chicago.

With the right resources, clinicians can become ardent advocates to better patients’ social determinants of health, including responsible gun ownership and use. Leavitt Partners released poll findings in spring 2018 in which physicians said they see how social determinants influence patients’ well-being, but do not yet have the resources to help with things like housing, hunger, transportation and securing health insurance. If the fervor of #ThisIsOurLane — and attention paid to it — is any indication, physicians deeply care about nonmedical issues that affect patients’ health. With the right resources, the medical community stands to become a powerful catalyst for change for a broad range of issues.

If health systems are serious about success under value-based payment models, they will empower clinicians with the support, partnerships and tools needed to intervene and improve social determinants of health for the good of their patients.

Media coverage of surprise billing

In late 2017, the American Hospital Association released an advisory notice encouraging members to prepare for a yearlong media investigation into healthcare pricing, conducted by Vox Media Senior Correspondent Sarah Kliff. The AHA’s memo illustrated how poorly prepared hospital executives and media teams are in fielding questions about pricing, especially facility fees.

“When I have tried to conduct interviews with hospital executives about how they set their prices, I find that many are reluctant to comment,” Ms. Kliff wrote. By the end of her 15-month project, Ms. Kliff had read 1,182 ER bills from every state and wrote a dozen articles about individual patient’s financial experiences with hospitals (she was also on maternity leave from June through September). Her work produced some effective headlines. Case in point: “A baby was treated with a nap and a bottle of formula. His parents received an $18,000 bill.” In that case, the hospital reversed the family’s $15,666 trauma fee after Ms. Kliff published her report.

As of Jan. 1, Medicare requires hospitals to disclose prices publicly — but this change is unlikely to greatly benefit patients and consumers since list prices don’t reflect what insurers, government programs and patients pay. Furthermore, price transparency is but one of the problems Ms. Kliff encountered in her extensive reporting. Others include high prices for generic drug store items ($238 for eye drops that run $15 to $50 in a retail pharmacy), out-of-network physicians tending to patients who are visiting in-network hospitals, and ER facility fees. Hospitals reversed $45,107 in medical bills as a result of Ms. Kliff’s reporting. Based on the change spearheaded by her work and the Congressional attention paid to medical billing practices, hospitals and health systems shouldn’t quit their AHA-advised preparation on their own billing practices just yet. They also shouldn’t chalk much progress up to CMS-mandated price postings, because that information does not answer the questions Ms. Kliff set out to answer, including how hospital set their prices. There will only be more questions like this — from journalists, patients and lawmakers.

Optum scaring the crap out of hospitals

Which business is keeping hospital leaders up at night? Many executives will tell you it’s not Amazon, not CVS, not One Medical — but Optum, the provider services arm of UnitedHealth Group. Optum was a key driver of the 11.7 percent gain UnitedHealth Group’s stock saw in 2018, which made it one of the top performers in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, according to Barron’s. Through its OptumCare branch, Optum employs or is affiliated with more than 30,000 physicians — roughly 8,000 more than Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente.

Aside from directly competing for patients, Optum wants to hire or affiliate with the same MD-certified talent. It offers physicians three ways to do so: direct employment, network affiliation or practice acquisition. “OptumCare Medical Group offers recent medical school graduates the opportunity to practice medicine and become a valuable partner in their local community minus the hassles associated with the ever-changing business side of healthcare,” the company writes on its employment website.

It’s not just the physician force that makes Optum a serious concern for hospitals. Part of the challenge is that the $91 billion business has a hand in several healthcare buckets, expanding its presence as either a serious competitor/threat or a potential collaborator in multiple arenas since it is not easily categorized. For instance, consider the mountain of data Optum sits upon, with valuable insights related to utilization, costs and patient behaviors. “Because they are connected to UnitedHealth, they probably have more healthcare data than anyone on the planet,” the CEO of a $2.5 billion health system said.

Mark Zuckerberg lost face with nurses

For as much as we talk about the collision of Silicon Valley and healthcare, one of the year’s most vivid clashes came down to a dozen California nurses and Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman and CEO of Facebook and world’s third-richest person. San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center was renamed the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center in 2015 after Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, MD, gave $75 million to the organization.

Soon after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica ordeal came to light, a dozen nurses protested and demanded Mr. Zuckerberg’s name be stripped from their hospital. His name is hardly synonymous with the protection of privacy, they argued. But philanthropy proves to be more of an art than a science. By November, even as a San Francisco politician pressed for the removal of the name, hospital CEO Susan Ehrlich, MD, said: “We are honored that Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg thought highly enough of our hospital and staff, and the health of San Franciscans, to donate their resources to our mission.”

The dispute illustrates the tension hospital and health system executives must deal with as cash-rich tech giants and venture capitalists make more high-profile forays into healthcare. Hospitals can use the cash, sure, but the alignment of value systems may present some challenges. 2018 was a year in which several tech companies faced problems with transparency, holding leaders publicly accountable, and diversity in hiring, among other issues. A dozen nurses protesting their hospital sharing a name with Mark Zuckerberg? That’s not the last time we’ll see clinicians urging wealthy but problematic tech icons to back off. Hospital executives will need to be adept in handling that tension and exercise urgency in their response.

 

Trends in Health Policy and the Mid-Term Elections Results

http://avalere.com/expertise/life-sciences/insights/series-trends-in-health-policy-and-the-mid-term-election-results

Image result for Series: Trends in Health Policy and the Mid-Term Elections Results

Tune in to hear Avalere experts discuss potential implications of the mid-term elections on health policy. Director Chris Sloan interviews Senior Vice President Elizabeth Carpenter on the mid-term elections results and what this could mean for the future of healthcare policy.

CS: Hello, and welcome to a special mid-term elections Avalere podcast. This is the last in a three-part series we’re doing on the health policy implications of the mid-term elections, and this time, we actually have results from the mid-term elections! My name is Chris Sloan, I’m a director with the federal and state policy group here at Avalere. Today, we’re going to discuss the results of the mid-term elections and the implications for health policy going forward.

As a reminder for those of you living under rocks, the mid-term elections ended with Democrats taking control of the House while Republicans increased their lead in the Senate. In three states, Medicaid expansion ballot initiative passed, which is likely to lead to about 325,000 new enrollees in Medicaid in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. Also, Democratic candidates who campaigned on Medicaid expansion won the governors races in Kansas, Maine, and Wisconsin, potentially leading to another 300,000 Medicaid enrollees in those states if they follow through with expansion.

Joining me today to talk about all of this and what we can expect in healthcare from the new Democratically-controlled House is Elizabeth Carpenter. She’s the senior vice president of our federal and state policy group, and she’s the preeminent expert at Avalere in all things health policy. Thanks for being here.

EC: Thanks for having me.

CS: The exit polling for the elections showed that healthcare again was one of the top issues for voters in the elections, eight years after the passage of the ACA. Can you talk about why this issue has continued to be such a big part of campaigns and elections in U.S. politics?

EC: I think this election marked a new high in some ways in terms of how Americans thought and voted on health care. If you had asked me this question leading up to 2016, I would have focused on Americans talking about jobs and the economy, and I would have linked healthcare to jobs and the economy. People often talk about being worried about their job because they are worried about affording their health insurance and their healthcare. This year, from a domestic policy perspective, we saw healthcare at the top of the list, and when you look under the hood, what you see is that people were focused on healthcare costs and not necessarily those costs that are predictable—premiums ranked somewhat low on the list. People were very focused on surprise medical bills and certain areas where we’ve seen increased deductibles and coinsurance that are leading people to be more exposed to system costs. It’s clear that people were focused on healthcare, but they were really focused on having a surprise or unexpected healthcare expense where they were going to have to go out of pocket quite a bit at one time. As the economy has stabilized, people seem to be zeroing on the healthcare front. What I would say is, in all of our policy discussions of healthcare costs, you have to ask yourself, what is the policy doing to address that question? In many cases, I would opine that the policy is not doing much. So it is quite likely that we may see this issue continue as we head towards 2020.

CS: In that vein, a lot of the Democratic candidates this election cycle were campaigning on expansions of public programs, like Medicare for All, Medicare for More. Do we expect that to continue now that Democrats have taken control of the House? How big of an issue do you think recent campaign promises have been?

EC: I would say the Democrats face a choice in this moment about what they want their next step of health reform to look like in advance of 2020. In general, I would very much expect Democrats to use the next year or two to offer thought leadership and position their party in advance of the presidential race. What that looks like, I don’t think we know at this moment. There were a number of candidates, interestingly at the state and federal level, who embraced a Medicare for All or Medicare for More type of approach. Some of those candidates won and some didn’t, and it’s hard to pinpoint what role their position on this circular policy had in those results. But I think it is fair to say that there will be continued debate over what role Medicare and other public programs play in covering our citizens and that Democrats will need to land on something in advance of 2020.

CS: So that was one big issue in the campaign, and another big issue that was on both sides was pre-existing conditions protections that made its way into the campaign season this year. There is still a lawsuit in Texas challenging the Affordable Care Act and the pre-existing conditions now that the individual mandate is gone. Do you see this as an option for some sort of bipartisan consensus coming out of the divided congress? What do you see happening with this issue going forward?

EC: This is another issue where when you look under the hood, even people who say the same things mean potentially very different things. We had candidates on both sides of the isle running ads that talked about their desire to protect pre-existing condition protections, despite the fact that some of those candidates voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act and others voted to repeal it. You asked what might happen if we see the core go down this path where pre-existing conditions projections will be null and void and would Congress sweep in and produce a solution. On face, you could say both parties to some degree do want to maintain protections for some pre-existing conditions. In practice, how you do that gets complicated. Once you open up this particular issue, you’re going to have people on one side of the isle wanting to use it as an opportunity to do certain kinds of reforms, and you have people on the other side of the isle who want to change the insurance market in another way. We’ve heard already from Democrats, for example, who are interested in potentially pursuing limitations on some of the short-term plans, including association health plans and other types of plans that don’t meet all Affordable Care Act requirements. People have already said they want to pursue this in this congress. So you can imagine there being a real need to do something, but at the same time, you can envision how this gets complicated and partisan really quickly. The closer we get to 2020, the more complicated any kind of healthcare debate gets.

CS: Given those realities of a divided government and partisanship, are we in a holding pattern for health policy until 2020 and the next election?

EC: I think a TBD there. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think anyone holds out a lot of hope for kumbayah and bipartisan progress. At the same time, we’ve seen over the past 24-48 hours various lawmakers on both sides of the isle talking about, for example, the drug pricing issue. The important thing to remember here is that we have a president who is non-traditional in some of his thinking and not necessarily aligned with the positions of the historic Republican party, so to the degree that Congress can reach some kind of alignment, it’s quite possible the President would sign something that another president might not. But it really is up to Congress to decide if they can and want to work together. Both sides at this point are making a calculation about working together and governing is good for them heading into the next election or if fostering gridlock and highlighting differences is a better political path.

CS: Great. Well, thank you so much for being with us. That wraps up our final episode of our three-part Avalere mid-term elections podcast series. As always, watch for more updates and analysis from Avalere over the coming weeks. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions. You are listening to Avalere Podcasts.

 

 

What the 2018 Midterm Elections Means for Health Care

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/%2010.1377/hblog20181107.185087/full/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=What+the+Midterms+Mean+For+Health+Care%3B+%22Stairway+To+Hell%22+Of+Health+Care+Costs%3B+Patient+Safety+In+Inpatient+Psychiatry&utm_campaign=HAT%3A+11-07-18

Whatever you want to call the 2018 midterm elections – blue wave, rainbow wave, or purple puddle – one thing is clear: Democrats will control the House.

That fundamental shift in the balance of power in Washington will have substantial implications for health care policymaking over the next two years. Based on a variety of signals they have been sending heading into Tuesday, we can make some safe assumptions about where congressional Democrats will focus in the 116th Congress. As importantly, there were a slew of health care-related decisions made at the state level, perhaps most notably four referenda on Medicaid expansion.

In this post, I’ll take a look at which health care issues will come to the fore of the Federal agenda due to the outcome Tuesday, as well as state expansion decisions. And it should of course be noted that, in addition to positive changes Democrats are likely to pursue over the next two years, House control will allow them to block legislation they oppose, notably further GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Drug Pricing

Democrats have long signaled they consider pharmaceutical pricing to be one of their highest priorities, even after then-candidate Trump adopted the issue as part of his campaign platform and maintained his focus there through his tenure as President.

While aiming to use the issue to drive a wedge between President Trump and congressional Republicans, who have historically opposed government action to set or influence prices, Democrats will also strive to distinguish themselves by going further on issues like direct government negotiation of Medicare Part D drug reimbursement.

Relevant House committee chairs, perhaps especially likely Oversight and Investigations chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD), will also take a more aggressive tack in investigating manufacturers and other sector stakeholders for pricing increases and other practices. Democratic leaders believe it will be easier to achieve consensus on this issue than on more contentious issues like single payer (more detail below) among their diverse caucus, which will include dozens more members from “purple” districts as well as members on the left flank of the party

Preexisting Condition Protections

If you live in a contested state or district, you have probably seen political ads relating to protecting patients with preexisting conditions. As long as a Republican-supported lawsuit seeking to repeal the ACA continues, Democrats believe they can leverage this issue to demonstrate the importance of the ACA and their broader health care platform.

A three-legged stool serves under current law to protect patients with chronic conditions: (1) the ban on preexisting condition exclusions; (2) guaranteed issue; and (3) community rating. Democrats will likely seek to bolster these protections with measures to shore up the ACA exchange markets. In the same vein, they will likely strive to rescind Trump Administration proposals to expand association-based and short-term health plans, which put patients with higher medical costs at risk by disaggregating the market.

Opioids

Congressional Democrats believe that there were some stones left unturned in this year’s opioid-related legislation, especially regarding funding for many of the programs it authorized. This is a priority for likely Ways & Means Committee Chair Richie Neal (D-MA) and could potentially be a source of bipartisan compromise.

Medicare for All

While this issue could become a bugaboo for old guard party leaders, the Democratic base will likely escalate its calls for action on Medicare for All now that the party has taken the House. Because the details of what various camps intend by this term are still vague (some believe it is tantamount to single payer, others view it as a gap-fill for existing uninsured, etc.), we will likely see a variety of competing proposals arise in the coming two years. Expect less bona fide committee action and more of a public debate aired via the presidential primary season that will kick off about, oh, right now.

Surprise Bills

The drug industry is not the only health care sector that can expect heightened scrutiny of their pricing practices now that Democrats control the people’s chamber. Most notably, the phenomenon of surprise bills (unexpected charges often stemming from a hospital visit) has risen as a salient issue for the public and thus a political winner for the party. Republicans have shown interest in this issue as well, so it could be another source of bipartisanship next year.

Regulatory Oversight

Democrats believe they are scoring well with the public, and certainly their base, every time they take on President Trump. The wide range of aggressive regulation (and deregulation) the Administration has pursued will be thoroughly investigated and challenged by Democratic committee leaders, especially administration efforts to dismantle the ACA and to test the legal bounds of the hospital site neutrality policy enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015.

Extenders

While it instituted permanent policies for Medicare physician payments and some other oft-renewed ‘extenders’, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 left a variety of policies in the perennial legislative limbo of needing to be repeatedly extended. While the policies in the Medicare space have dwindled to subterranean, though not necessarily cheap, affairs like the floor on geographic adjustments to physician payments, a slew of Medicaid-related and other policies are up for renewal in 2019.

For example, Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments face a (previously delayed) cliff next year. That and the most expensive extender, ACA-initiated funding for community health centers, alone spring the cost of this package into the high single digit billions at least, driving a need for offsetting payment cuts and creating a vehicle for additional policy priorities.

A likely addition to this discussion will be the fact that Medicare physician payments, per MACRA, are scheduled to flatline for 2020-2025 before beginning to increase again, albeit in divergent ways for doctors participating in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment Program (MIPs – 0.25 percent/year) and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs – 0.75 percent/year). The AMA assuredly noticed this little wrinkle in the celebrated legislation but hundreds of thousands of doctors probably did not.

Medicaid Expansion

Of the variety of state-level health policy decisions voters made on Tuesday, perhaps the most significant related to Medicaid expansion. In there states where Republican leaders have blocked expansion under the ACA – Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah – voters endorsed it via public referenda. Increasing the Medicaid eligibility level in those three states to the ACA standard will bring coverage to approximately 300,000 people.

Notably, voters in Montana rejected a proposal to continue funding the Medicaid expansion the state enacted temporarily in 2015 by an increase to the state’s tobacco tax. Their expansion is now scheduled to lapse in July 2019 if the legislature doesn’t act to maintain it. If they do not act, about 129,000 Montanans will lose Medicaid coverage.

Finally, Democratic gubernatorial wins in Maine, Kansas, and Wisconsin will make Medicaid expansion more likely in those states.

As they say, elections have consequences. While the Republican-controlled Senate and White House can block any Democratic priorities they oppose, the 2018 midterm elections assure a busy two years for health care stakeholders.

 

 

IN SEARCH OF INSURANCE SAVINGS, CONSUMERS CAN GET UNWITTINGLY WEDGED INTO NARROW-NETWORK PLANS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/search-insurance-savings-consumers-can-get-unwittingly-wedged-narrow-network-plans?utm_source=silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ENL_181101_LDR_BRIEFING%20(1)&spMailingID=14541829&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1520057837&spReportId=MTUyMDA1NzgzNwS2

Wedged Into Narrow-Network Plans

Despite federal rules requiring plans to keep up-to-date directories, consumers may lack access to clear information about which health plans have ‘narrow networks’ of providers or which hospitals and doctors are in or out of an insurer’s network.

As a breast cancer survivor, Donna Catanuchi said she knows she can’t go without health insurance. But her monthly premium of $855 was too high to afford.

“It was my biggest expense and killing me,” said Catanuchi, 58, of Mullica Hill, N.J.

A “navigator” who helps people find coverage through the Affordable Care Act found a solution. But it required Catanuchi, who works part time cleaning offices, to switch to a less comprehensive plan, change doctors, drive farther to her appointments and pay $110 a visit out-of-pocket — or about three times what she was paying for her follow-up cancer care.

She now pays $40 a month for coverage, after she qualified for a substantial government subsidy.

Catanuchi’s switch to a more affordable but restrictive plan reflects a broad trend in insurance plan design over the past few years. The cheaper plans offer far narrower networks of doctors and hospitals and less coverage of out-of-network care. But many consumers are overwhelmed or unaware of the trade-offs they entail, insurance commissioners and policy experts say.

With enrollment for ACA health plans beginning Nov. 1, they worry that consumers too often lack access to clear information about which health plans have “narrow networks” of medical providers or which hospitals and doctors are in or out of an insurer’s network, despite federal rules requiring plans to keep up-to-date directories.

“It’s very frustrating for consumers,” said Betsy Imholz, who represents the advocacy group Consumers Union at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “Health plan provider directories are often inaccurate, and doctors are dropping in and out all the time.”

These more restrictive plans expose people to larger out-of-pocket costs, less access to out-of-network specialists and hospitals, and “surprise” medical bills from unforeseen out-of-network care.

More than 14 million people buy health insurance on the individual market — largely through the ACA exchanges, and they will be shopping anew this coming month.

TREND APPEARS TO BE SLOWING

For 2018, 73 percent of plans offered through the exchanges were either health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or exclusive provider organizations (EPOs), up from 54 percent in 2015.

Both have more restrictive networks and offer less out-of-network coverage compared with preferred provider organizations (PPOs), which represented 21 percent of health plans offered through the ACA exchanges in 2018, according to Avalere, a health research firm in Washington, D.C.

PPOs typically provide easier access to out-of-network specialists and facilities, and partial — sometimes even generous — payment for such services.

Measured another way, the number of ACA plans offering any out-of-network coverage declined to 29 percent in 2018 from 58 percent in 2015, according to a recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For example, in California, HMO and EPO enrollment through Covered California, the state’s exchange, grew from 46 percent in 2016 to 70 percent in 2018, officials there said. Over the same period, PPO enrollment declined from 54 percent to 30 percent.

In contrast, PPOs have long been and remain the dominant type of health plan offered by employers nationwide. Forty-nine percent of the 152 million people and their dependents who were covered through work in 2018 were enrolled in a PPO-type plan. Only 16 percent were in HMOs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employment-based health insurance.

The good news for people buying health insurance on their own is that the trend toward narrow networks appears to be slowing.

“When premiums shot up over the past few years, insurers shifted to more restrictive plans with smaller provider networks to try and lower costs and premiums,” said Chris Sloan, a director at Avalere. “With premium increases slowing, at least for now, that could stabilize.”

Some research supports this prediction. Daniel Polsky, a health economist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that the number of ACA plans nationwide with narrow physician networks declined from 25 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2017.

Polsky is completing an analysis of 2018 plans and expects the percent of narrow network plans to remain “relatively constant” for this year and into 2019.

“Fewer insurers are exiting the marketplace, and there’s less churn in the plans being offered,” said Polsky. “That’s good news for consumers.”

Insurers may still be contracting with fewer hospitals, however, to constrain costs in that expensive arena of care, according to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. It found that 53 percent of plans had narrow hospital networks in 2017, up from 48 percent in 2014.

“Narrow networks are a trade-off,” said Paul Ginsburg, a health care economist at the Brookings Institution. “They can be successful when done well. At a time when we need to find ways to control rising health care costs, narrow networks are one legitimate strategy.”

Ginsburg also notes that there’s no evidence to date that the quality of care is any less in narrow versus broader networks, or that people are being denied access to needed care.

Mike Kreidler, Washington state’s insurance commissioner, said ACA insurers in that state “are figuring out they can’t get away with provider networks that are inadequate to meet people’s needs.”

“People have voted with their feet, moving to more affordable choices like HMOs but they won’t tolerate draconian restrictions,” Kreidler said.

The state is stepping in, too. In December 2017, Kreidler fined one insurer — Coordinated Care — $1.5 million for failing to maintain an adequate network of doctors. The state suspended $1 million of the fine if the insurer had no further violations. In March 2018, the plan was docked another $100,000 for similar gaps, especially a paucity of specialists in immunology, dermatology and rheumatology. The $900,000 in potential fines continues to hang over the company’s head.

Centene Corp, which owns Coordinated Care, has pledged to improve its network.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said she expects residents buying insurance in the individual marketplace for 2019 to have a wider choice of providers in their networks.

“We think and hope insurers are gradually building more stable networks of providers,” said Altman.

NEW STATE LAWS

Bad publicity and recent state laws are pushing insurers to modify their practices and shore up their networks.

About 20 states now have laws restricting surprise bills or balance billing, or which mandate mediation over disputed medical bills, especially those stemming from emergency care.

Even more have rules on maintaining accurate, up-to-date provider directories.

The problem is the laws vary widely in the degree to which they “truly protect consumers,” said Claire McAndrew, a health policy analyst at Families USA, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “It’s a patchwork system with some strong consumer protections and a lot of weaker ones.”

“Some states don’t have the resources to enforce rules in this area,” said Justin Giovannelli, a researcher at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “That takes us backward in assuring consumers get coverage that meets their needs.”

 

 

1 big thing: Out-of-network coverage is disappearing

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-df4bea3c-3e1a-4efb-84f7-6e3247205ba7.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Image result for health insurance out of network coverage disappearing

One reason surprise medical bills are going up: Coverage for out-of-network care is going down, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Per RWJF:

  • Just 29% of insurance plans in the individual market provide any benefits for out-of-network providers. That’s down from 58% a mere three years ago.
  • Coverage is also declining in the market for small businesses, but not nearly as dramatically — 64% of small-group plans offer some out-of-network coverage, down from 71% in 2015.
  • Those small-group numbers are probably roughly in line with where things stand among large employers’ plans.

Why it matters: The burgeoning controversy over surprise hospital bills stems partly (though not exclusively) from the bills patients receive when they’re treated by an out-of-network provider — even without their knowledge, often within an in-network facility.

  • Out-of-network coverage has obviously never been as generous as in-network coverage (that’s the whole point of creating a network), but as insurers pull back even further, more patients will likely find themselves on the hook for even bigger bills.