International comparison of patients over 65 – impact of Medicare

Posted by on Thursday, Nov 20, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

International Survey Of Older Adults Finds Shortcomings In Access, Coordination, And Patient-Centered Care

By Robin Osborn, Donald Moulds, David Squires, Michelle M. Doty and Chloe Anderson
Health Affairs, November 2014 (online)


Industrialized nations face the common challenge of caring for aging populations, with rising rates of chronic disease and disability. Our 2014 computer-assisted telephone survey of the health and care experiences among 15,617 adults age sixty-five or older in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States has found that US older adults were sicker than their counterparts abroad. Out-of-pocket expenses posed greater problems in the United States than elsewhere. Accessing primary care and avoiding the emergency department tended to be more difficult in the United States, Canada, and Sweden than in other surveyed countries. One-fifth or more of older adults reported receiving uncoordinated care in all countries except France. US respondents were among the most likely to have discussed health-promoting behaviors with a clinician, to have a chronic care plan tailored to their daily life, and to have engaged in end-of-life care planning. Finally, in half of the countries, one-fifth or more of chronically ill adults were caregivers themselves.

Comparative US Performance And Challenges Going Forward

Despite having Medicare coverage, older US adults remained much more likely to face financial barriers to care than their counterparts in other developed countries. This may be surprising, as other studies have found that Medicare offers more stable and protective insurance than other forms of coverage in the United States, including employer-sponsored private coverage. However, it is still clearly less protective than the universal coverage offered in the health systems of other countries surveyed. This finding likely reflects limitations in Medicare coverage, including substantial deductibles and copayments, especially for pharmaceuticals, which are often more expensive in the United States than elsewhere. The absence of limitations on catastrophic expenses and long-term care coverage likely play a role as well.

Financial barriers aside, elderly Americans also face comparatively poor access to primary care and after-hours care, relatively high dependence on the ED, and large gaps in care coordination. Yet the survey also captures areas where the experience of US older adults is favorable. Both comparatively and objectively, Americans reported good access to specialists. The US health care system also performed relatively well when it came to hospital discharge planning and on the more patient-centered measures of health promotion, self-management support for chronically ill patients, and support for end-of-life planning.

Finally, the US elderly population is sicker than the comparable population in other surveyed nations, reporting a much higher incidence of chronic disease. This higher disease burden will pose critical challenges for US policy makers in years to come. The United States already significantly outspends all of the other countries in the survey—often by a two-to-one margin—despite having the youngest population. Although the growth in health care costs has slowed in recent years in all of these countries, these considerations suggest that the United States will face growing cost pressures. It will be hard to maintain the current low-growth trajectory unless the United States successfully implements delivery and payment system reforms that reduce the cost of care and finds a way to narrow the health gap between itself and other countries.…


Richard Gottfried, Chair, Committee on Health, New York State Assembly, made the following observation: “The lesson:  Living 65 years with American insurance companies leaves you sicker. Then, transitioning to American social insurance gives you quicker access to specialists.”

(Personal communication, 11/19/14)


U.S. Seniors’ Health Poorest, Global Survey Shows

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay, November 19, 2014

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, said American seniors are sicker because of the inadequate care they received before they turned 65.

“The health care system for the under-65 population is full of gaps, and lots of people fall through the cracks,” she said.

Woolhandler, who is also a professor of health at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City, added that Medicare is also leaving many Americans underinsured and that the Affordable Care Act will not make a major difference.

“We need to be providing much more comprehensive coverage to everyone, including lower co-pays and deductibles,” she suggested.…

This international comparison of health care in older adults in eleven nations is the latest in the series sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund. For the United States, it is unique in that it compares only patients over 65 in our public Medicare program with older patients in other nations that already have universal health care systems.

Perhaps the most remarkable finding for the United States is that patients enter the Medicare program sicker than older patients in other nations, but, once there, they have better access to health care than those younger than 65. But even our Medicare program leaves our elderly exposed to greater financial barriers to care than do the systems of other nations.

This study once again shows what the United States needs is obvious. We need to improve Medicare so that it provides better coverage, and then we need to expand it to cover everyone.

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Prescription drug plans are adding more tiers and switching from co-pays to coinsurance

Posted by on Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Avalere Analysis: Medicare Beneficiaries Will Pay Higher Out-Of-Pocket Costs As PDPs Increase Use Of Coinsurance In 2015

By Caroline F. Pearson, Vice President
Avalere, November 13, 2014

First Time in History of Part D, All PDPs Will Incorporate a Specialty Tier

A new analysis from Avalere Health finds that Medicare Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) are poised to increase significantly the use of coinsurance in 2015. Avalere found that two-thirds of standalone Part D PDPs will apply coinsurance—i.e., consumers paying a percentage of the total cost of the drugs—to at least their top two formulary tiers, an increase of 83 percent from 2014.

“Adding coinsurance to a second plan tier means that more beneficiaries will be looking at the full cost of branded drugs at the pharmacy counter,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO at Avalere Health. “This strategy has proven central to plan operations as they try to keep premiums low to maintain stability in Part D.”

For First Time in History of Part D, All PDPs Will Incorporate a Specialty Tier in 2015

Since the introduction of Part D in 2006, the use of specialty tiers has been more common in Medicare Part D than in other markets, such as employer-sponsored insurance. From 2012 to 2015, the number of Part D PDPs using specialty tiers has increased, jumping nearly 15 percent in four years. As a result, all PDPs will use a specialty tier in 2015, the first time this has occurred in the history of Part D.

“The clear trend toward specialty tiers in exchanges and Part D is likely to have an impact on employer-sponsored benefit designs over time,” said Caroline Pearson, Vice President at Avalere Health. “Benefit managers and C-Suite executives are definitely taking notice of how active management of the pharmacy benefit may be able to reduce premiums.”

Two-Thirds of PDPs Will Use at Least Two Coinsurance Tiers

Perhaps more significant for beneficiaries and manufacturers is the major shift toward the use of at least two coinsurance tiers in 2015. Avalere’s analysis found that 66 percent of PDPs in 2015, representing 60 percent of covered Medicare Part D beneficiaries, will apply coinsurance to their top two tiers. In 2014, only 32 percent of PDPs (representing 35 percent Part D beneficiaries) did the same.  In total, enrollment in plans with at least two coinsurance tiers increased from 6.4 million to 11.1 million from 2014-2015.

In most cases, these plans include one specialty tier and apply coinsurance to the non-preferred brand tier. Unlike the specialty tier, there are no restrictions on what drugs can be placed on non-specialty coinsurance tiers, nor are there cost-sharing limitations. As a result, many of these tiers have cost-sharing rates ranging from 35 to 50 percent.

The shift toward more than one coinsurance tier has been accompanied by a shift toward formularies with five tiers. In 2015, 89 percent of plans will have five or more tiers, a 53 percent increase since 2012. Indeed, the dominance of five-tier plans can be accounted for in part by a surge in the number of such plans with two coinsurance tiers in 2015—while only three plans used this formulary structure in 2014, 335 plans will do so in 2015. Among these plans, coinsurance on tier four (typically used for non-preferred brand drugs) averages 44 percent.

“The inclusion of more coinsurance tiers on PDP formularies is designed to increase plans’ ability to obtain lower spending for high-cost – but non-specialty – drugs,” said Christine Harhaj, Senior Manager, Avalere Health. “Unlike most specialty drugs, however, these treatments are often prescribed to a broad patient population and applying coinsurance rates may have the effect of significantly increasing cost sharing for a large number of Part D beneficiaries.”…

There has been an explosion in the introduction of very high cost drugs. At the same time the generic drug market is being manipulated to enable exponential increases in the prices of generic drugs. So what innovations are the insurers introducing in response?

They are expanding the number of drug pricing tiers, and they are switching from modest co-payments (fixed dollar amount) to much higher coinsurance payments (a percentage of the actual costs), both of which shift much more of the costs to patients. Many patients will go without medications that they should have simply because the out-of-pocket costs will be truly unaffordable.

The insurance industry prides itself on offering innovative products to the public. But insurance innovations are designed to benefit the the insurers. In a public insurance program, problems such as the excessive prices of drugs are addressed through innovations that are designed to benefit… wait for this… the patient!

A well designed single payer system would not use unbearable cost sharing to try to address the high prices of drugs. Rather it would use its power as a monopsony (single purchaser in a market) to demand fair pricing of drug products based on legitimate costs and fair margins. Those prices would be paid by our shared single risk pool, funded through equitable taxes.

Really. If you didn’t read the excerpts above, read them now to see what a disaster these changes will be. And these are only changes introduced in one year for one program – Part D Medicare – though the intent is to extend these changes to employer-sponsored plans as well.

Just consider the changes that the private insurance industry makes in every program every year – some subtle, some not so – and add those up and you’ll understand why we have an exorbitantly priced but mediocre health care financing system. It’s time to turn it over to our own public administrators.

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Deloitte report on digging deep – for out-of-pocket health care costs

Posted by on Tuesday, Nov 18, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.


h2>Dig deep: Impacts and implications of rising out-of-pocket health care costs

Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, November 17, 2014

Executive summary

Even though more consumers are gaining health insurance coverage, they are by no means insulated from the burden of health care costs. Consumers are paying more of their health plan premium and experiencing higher out-of-pocket (OOP) cost-sharing for all types of health care services. These increases are expected to continue as employers shift to high-deductible offerings and individuals gain coverage through insurance marketplaces (also known as public health insurance exchanges). Moreover, government estimates of health care spending do not take into account discretionary consumer spending on a number of products and services; Deloitte’s Hidden Costs Analysis shows these purchases add considerably to the total.

Increases in consumer OOP spending impact hospitals, life sciences companies, and health plans as well as consumers. In response, hospitals should consider strategies to help patients anticipate and pay their bills. Pharmaceutical companies should consider identifying ways to minimize consumers’ cost-sharing for their products. Finally, health plans should consider developing tools to help consumers understand how to use their coverage and plan for care, including choosing high-value providers.

Implications for consumers

Consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to bear the burden of mounting OOP costs and many are searching for ways to manage the expenditure. For example, in Deloitte’s surveys of U.S. consumers, respondents have shown a willingness to skip care and/or use over-the-counter products to avoid the cost of doctors’ office and hospital visits. Some opt to not fill prescriptions, take less than the prescribed amount, or have trouble getting behavioral health care.

A growing number of individuals are buying health plans that have lower premiums (so are less expensive on a monthly basis) but have high deductibles, without understanding that these plans will not pay for a doctor visit or for prescription drugs before the consumers meet their annual deductible. These choices can result in thousands of dollars of OOP medical expenses each year. The challenges of insurance illiteracy are great: A study by Consumer Reports found that many consumers were not aware of basic insurance concepts. (HHS is running a campaign to help people understand how to use their insurance.) Among potential implications of insurance illiteracy, some consumers in future rounds of marketplace purchases may choose to “buy up” when they learn about their financial exposure under some of the less-expensive plans.

Ideally, consumers seeking to reduce OOP costs will take time to research options and use available tools to select low-cost, high-quality providers in their health plan’s network. OOP costs may even encourage some consumers to take extra steps to stay healthy. But even consumers who are fully committed to healthy living will at some time or another need health care and this may involve high prices. Finally, people facing high cost-sharing may be discouraged from using many of the health services they need, including help managing chronic health conditions, and may not see the value in paying premiums for future coverage.…

This report is written for the health care industry. It provides advice on potential strategies to deal with an increasing problem in health care today: the impacts of rising out-of-pocket health care costs. Although Deloitte’s advice is directed more towards the medical/industrial complex that provides health care services, our concern is with what Deloitte calls consumers, though we know them as patients.

Shifting costs of health care to patients’ pockets is not in the interests of the patients. They would be better served by a system that prepays all essential health care services so that they can access care as needed without having to face financial barriers. Other nations do this while spending much less per capita on health care than we do.

So is shifting costs to patients in the best interests of the medical/industrial complex? For the providers of health care services and products – physicians and other health care professionals, hospitals, pharmacists, laboratories, imaging centers, medical equipment suppliers, and others – instead of collecting charges from a single payer, these entities must also collect from individual patients the deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance, out-of-network charges, and uncovered health expenses that the insurers exclude from provider payments. This increases the administrative complexity for the providers and exposes them to losses for charges that prove to be uncollectible. Increases in administrative efforts and exposure to potential losses are not in the interests of the providers. They would be better off providing services within a prepaid system that eliminates patient cost sharing.

If this isn’t working for either the patients or the providers, then who is benefiting? The private insurers, of course. They benefit by selling us more of their primary product: administrative services. They benefit by paying less for health care services and products, since some of the costs are shifted to patients’ pockets. They benefit by increasing the administrative complexity of health care financing thereby making their intermediary role an essential service that insured patients and contracted providers require to negotiate the administrative maze of health care payment. So we need them because they created an administrative nightmare that is so complex that we can’t do without them?

As would be expected, Deloitte advises tinkering to address the problem of digging deep for out-of-pocket spending. Or, failing that, they suggest that patients “take extra steps to stay healthy.” But for patients and for the health care delivery system, the correct solution is obvious. Provide first dollar coverage and pay for care through an administratively efficient system: a single payer national health program.

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Hate was never a part of Obama’s supposed love/hate relationship with insurers

Posted by on Monday, Nov 17, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Health Law Turns Obama and Insurers Into Allies

By Robert Pear
The New York Times, November 17, 2014

With the health insurance marketplace now open for a second year, President Obama will be depending more than ever on the insurance companies that five years ago he accused of padding profits and canceling coverage for the sick.

Those same insurers have long viewed government as an unreliable business partner that imposed taxes, fees and countless regulations and had the power to cut payment rates and cap profit margins.

But since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the relationship between the Obama administration and insurers has evolved into a powerful, mutually beneficial partnership that has been a boon to the nation’s largest private health plans and led to a profitable surge in their Medicaid enrollment.

“These companies all look at government programs as growth markets,” said Michael J. Tuffin, former executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobby for the industry. “There will be nearly $2 trillion of subsidized coverage through insurance exchanges and Medicaid over the next 10 years. These are pragmatic companies. They will follow the customer.”

“We are in this together,” Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal insurance marketplace, told insurers at a recent conference in Washington. “You have been our partners,” and for that, he said, “we are very grateful.”

In another sign of the close relationship, the administration has recruited experts from the insurance industry to provide operational expertise. Eight months after the unit of UnitedHealth Group, called Optum, helped repair last fall, the administration hired a top Optum executive, Andrew M. Slavitt, as the No. 2 official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The administration waived conflict-of-interest rules so that Mr. Slavitt could participate in decisions affecting UnitedHealth and Optum.…

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided the private health insurance industry with the greatest stimulus to its industry that it could possibly have achieved, and it is reaping great rewards as a result.

Even the provision of ACA that was considered most unfavorable for the industry – the fact that they would have to start insuring individuals with preexisting conditions – was actually just what they needed because it then mandated the individual mandate. That is, they would have the entire population as their market, except for the government plans. Even there, Medicaid is being shifted en mass to private insurers, and more Medicare patients are moving into the private Medicare Advantage plans – all with the complicity of the Obama administration.

If you don’t understand why the takeover of health care financing by the private insurance industry is a problem, there are a few thousand Quote of the Day messages that can give you some insight – posted at

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Financial protection provided by insurance is deteriorating

Posted by on Friday, Nov 14, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Too High a Price: Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs in the United States

By Sara R. Collins, Petra W. Rasmussen, Michelle M. Doty, and Sophie Beutel
The Commonwealth Fund, November 2014


Whether they have health insurance through an employer or buy it on their own, Americans are paying more out-of-pocket for health care now than they did in the past decade. A Commonwealth Fund survey fielded in the fall of 2014 asked consumers about these costs. More than one of five 19-to-64-year-old adults who were insured all year spent 5 percent or more of their income on out-of-pocket costs, not including premiums, and 13 percent spent 10 percent or more. Adults with low incomes had the highest rates of steep out-of-pocket costs. About three of five privately insured adults with low incomes and half of those with moderate incomes reported that their deductibles are difficult to afford. Two of five adults with private insurance who had high deductibles relative to their income said they had delayed needed care because of the deductible.…

Health reform was supposed to make health care more affordable, yet underinsurance is increasing. The deductibles are more difficult for people to afford and a delay in needed care has been the result. Single payer would eliminate underinsurance. It’s time.

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Why does the press attack Gruber and ignore Pauly?

Posted by on Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Who is Jonathan Gruber?

By Jose A. DelReal
The Washington Post, November 11, 2014

Jonathan Gruber is probably having a hell of a day.

The MIT economics professor, best known until now for his key role advising the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act, has come under attack after year-old video of a University of Pennsylvania panel surfaced that featured him referring to the “stupidity of the American voter” and a “lack of transparency” as crucial to the passage of the 2010 health reform law.

Those comments have struck a nerve on the right, with some of the law’s critics pointing to Gruber’s comments as evidence that the administration intentionally deceived the American public on the costs of the program.…


AHEC 2013 Conference

November 10, 2014

As part of the 24th Annual Health Economics Conference hosted by PennLDI, Mark Pauly and Jonathan Gruber were featured in the Plenary Panel discussing the role of economics in shaping (and possibly reshaping) the ACA.

Transcript from Video:

Jonathan Gruber (at 20:24):  Mark made a couple of comments that I do want to take issue with, one about transparency of financing and the other is about moving from community rating to risk-rated subsidies. It should… You can’t do it, politically – you just literally cannot do it. Okay, transparent financing… not just transparent financing… all transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured  way to make sure that CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scores the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, you get a law which said healthy people are going to pay in… you make it explicit the healthy people pay in and the sick people get money, it would not have passed. Just like… lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And, basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really critical to get the thing to pass, and, you know, it’s the second best argument. Look, I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.

Mark Pauly (at 12:39):  My last comment is on most needed research, and here I’m going to ask you to cheer me up. So the premise, actually, for my thesis work, on why we ought to subsidize health insurance was this idea that we… what I would now call benevolent moral hazard. We want to create moral hazard to get people who underuse medical care by community standards, to use it because it will improve their health, and, at least I was terribly depressed by the results of the Oregon study where impacts on health were minimal and moral hazard, though, came through like gangbusters – it’s still about a 33 percent increase. One study doesn’t prove anything, and it was not super powered, although it was powered to detect large impacts if they’d been there. But I think we either need to figure out a more sensitive way to detect health influences, or the alternative, which some people have talked about is, say, well it really wasn’t health care we wanted, it was financial stability, which I’m willing to give $1.98 for. I guess my concern is there are so many ways a person can go broke, why would we particularly concentrate on subsidizing health insurance to prevent them from going broke that way?

Quite a furor has been caused by Jonathan Gruber’s controversial comments at a conference last year – comments on the importance of preventing transparency over the transfer of funds from the healthy to the sick. Yet the press has remained silent on Mark Pauly’s disconcerting comments at the same conference. So what does this mean, and what does it have to do with single payer?

It is common for voters to express their opposition to taxes by stating that they do not want money to be taken away from them by the government and given to someone else. There is particular resentment, for instance, of middle-income workers paying taxes to provide food stamps for low-income individuals, or, worse, the objection of high-income individuals being required to participate in a transfer from the rich to the poor. Yet everyone agrees that we should have arrangements wherein our very high medical bills are paid by others. That is the very essence of health insurance – a transfer from the healthy to the sick. But now that health care costs are so high, a transfer from the wealthy to low- and middle-income individuals and families is also essential.

Gruber’s comment referred to the fact that voters who are not particularly sophisticated (“call it the stupidity of the American voter”) should not have the financing of the Affordable Care Act framed as a “taxes.” So the lack of transparency was in the rhetoric – avoiding the use of the term “taxes” – but not in the policy. The financing was to be perceived as insurance premiums with subsidies if required, though the rhetoric did not include the fact that the subsidies are a transfer through the tax system. So there is not dishonesty here. It is totally about political rhetoric, compounded perhaps by Gruber’s inelegant choice of words.

But look at what Mark Pauly has to say. He is considered by many to be the father of the theory of moral hazard in health insurance – obtaining free care because you are insured – care that you would not have obtained if you had to pay for it. Yet he supports creating what he calls “benevolent moral hazard” – getting people to use medical care when it benefits their health. He would do this by subsidizing insurance based on individual risk rather than based on community rating. People with greater needs would receive insurance subsidies if they could not afford the higher premiums. (Why this is a terrible idea requires a discussion of risk pools, administrative efficiency, equity, and other financing concepts which we will not go into here.)

But then Pauly goes on to lament the moral hazard of Medicaid by using the Oregon study. He indicates that health care use increased 33 percent without any demonstrable benefits. The Oregon natural experiment has been discussed thoroughly elsewhere, but, just briefly, we’ll say that the study was not powered to detect major beneficial endpoints, but, further, there are many other benefits of physician visits that are never measured in these studies (e.g., reassurance that distressing symptoms are benign). People do not go to physicians as a social outing, but rather they go because they have health concerns.

The really outrageous comment that should offend even the media is Pauly’s glib questioning of why we would “particularly concentrate on subsidizing health insurance” when “there are so many ways a person can go broke.”

The reason that we should be especially concerned about this truly insensitive comment is that it represents the thinking of one of the nation’s health policy leaders who are sending us down the path of “skin in the game” consumer-directed health care that deliberately places financial barriers in the way of beneficial health care.

And this is what the Gruber furor has to do with single payer. If the media investigated and reported on the really important issues, they would expand on Pauly’s comments to show us how single payer would REMOVE financial barriers to care – ensuring that everyone would have the health care that they need. Reporting insignificant rhetorical gotchas while ignoring an expert’s dismissal of going broke due to personal health care expenses reflects poorly on today’s media – not all of them, but far too many. Google both Gruber’s and Pauly’s comments and you’ll see which one was covered and which one wasn’t.

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AMA policy on narrow networks

Posted by on Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

New policy calls for adequate networks for patient access, choice

AMA Wire, November 10, 2014

The new AMA policy, which is part of a new report by the AMA Council on Medical Service, calls for health insurers to make changes to their provider networks before the open enrollment period gets underway each year. Implementing changes to provider networks at this time will help prevent patients from being stuck with plans that drop their physicians after they already have enrolled.

The policy also reiterates the need for health insurers to provide patients with an accurate, complete directory of participating physicians through multiple media outlets. These lists also should identify physicians who are not accepting new patients.

Other provisions of the new policy include:

  • Promoting state regulators as the primary enforcers of network adequacy requirements. These regulators can ensure compliance with state network adequacy laws and regulations that are intended to make sure patients have access to adequate provider networks throughout the plan year.
  • Calling for insurers to submit quarterly reports to state regulators. These reports should provide data on several measures of network adequacy, including the number and type of physicians who have joined or left the network, the provision of essential health benefits, and consumer complaints received.
  • Calling on insurers to treat patient visits to out-of-network physicians the same as in-network visits if the plan’s provider network is deemed inadequate.
  • Supporting regulation and legislation that require out-of-network expenses to count toward a patient’s annual deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums when a patient is enrolled in a plan with out-of-network benefits or is forced to go out of network as a result of network inadequacies.…

If any organization should be able to devise policies that would correct the deficiencies of narrow provider networks, it is the AMA. When you read their new recommendations, clearly they leave in place the fundamentally flawed policy of restricting patient choices of physicians. Tweaking a policy that needs to be eliminated is not an adequate response.

They speak of ensuring network adequacy, but networks are not adequate if they eliminate your primary care provider, if they require greater distances to travel in seeking care, if they limit access to specialists, if they exclude physicians at centers of excellence, or if they include any of the other restrictions that result from not having freedom to choose from all available physicians in the community and in referral centers.

Keeping provider lists current is almost impossible. Physicians often do not notify the insurers when they close their practices to new patients or when they move their offices. List changes of physician attrition (retirement, license revocation, death, etc.) or of new physicians entering the community can be difficult to keep current.

Requiring prior authorization for out-of-network services is a barrier to care, if it is even allowed at all.

One of the more important AMA recommendations is to allow the cost of out-of-network care to be applied to the deductibles and to the out-of-pocket maximums. But then there would be little reason for patients to stay in network unless they had catastrophic expenses that could expose them to large balance-billing costs. Regardless, the patient is still exposed at least to the high deductibles and high out-of-pocket maximums, creating financial hardships for many of the insured.

The AMA recently again rejected recommending single payer proposals. That’s too bad. Single payer would have taken care of not only the narrow network problem, but also the thousands of other deficiencies that are unique in our highly dysfunctional, market-oriented non-system of health care financing.

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The moral hazard of preventive services

Posted by on Monday, Nov 10, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

An Economic Framework For Preventive Care Advice

By Mark V. Pauly, Frank A. Sloan and Sean D. Sullivan
Health Affairs, November 2014


Under the Affordable Care Act, preventive care measures, including vaccinations and screenings, recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the US Preventive Services Task Force must be covered in full by insurance. These recommendations affect the cost of medical care. Yet neither organization explicitly incorporates measures of efficiency or cost-effectiveness in making its recommendations. To redress this shortcoming, we propose a decision-making framework for these two organizations based on the principles of economic efficiency. Our analysis suggests that routine use of a preventive service should be recommended for full insurance coverage if the service’s cost-effectiveness exceeds a socially determined threshold. For less cost-effective services, we suggest that information about effectiveness and cost should be provided to consumers by physicians or government, but the choice of care and insurance coverage for care should be made by individuals. For the least cost-effective services, the two organizations should discourage public and private insurers from covering such services and report their unfavorable cost-effectiveness.

Health And Cost Trade-Offs

It is crucial to note that the policies of ACIP and the US Preventive Services Task Force are affected by legislative and political constraints. Even with expertise and intent, and with reliance on staff to summarize information on cost-effectiveness, the two organizations are heavily restricted in their ability to incorporate costs in their decisions. Nonetheless, they are given the authority to make recommendations with potentially serious cost consequences. They are being asked to do a task that is impossible to do well. The current structure is thus unworkable as a vehicle for deciding on costly coverage. We therefore propose an alternative that could, in principle, then be implemented either by ACIP and the US Preventive Services Task Force or by some other entity.

An Economic Framework

Preventive care should be made free of user cost for several reasons. The classic reason for requiring immunizations for contagious diseases is concern about the failure of consumers to consider the benefits of prevention to others who might otherwise contract the disease from them. Such use is encouraged by insurance coverage. Another reason is that considerable evidence exists suggesting that some patients do not fully appreciate the benefits from some high-value preventive services, such as the measles vaccine. Finally, future cost reduction for other services that sometimes accompany effective prevention will be overlooked by consumers insured for those services (and by insurers and employers) if there is turnover of insured people from one insurance company to another.

Shorn of technical language and complex mathematics, the fundamental goal of economic efficiency is to provide all services worth more than their cost to users and others who value receipt of these services. In contrast, services should not be provided if they improve health but not by enough to justify their costs.

Categories Of Evaluation And Advice

Here is a way to consider possible policies. A highly desirable service may be “strongly” recommended, with the expectation that physicians will routinely offer and encourage the use of such services and insurance or public subsidies will reduce the user price to zero. Most recommended pediatric immunizations fall into this category.

There are effective preventive services that might be of limited benefit to most people’s health but are sufficiently beneficial for some people to prefer them. We suggest that recommendations in this case be “permissive.” They would emphasize to consumers the positive health benefits of the care and the need to alert them about its availability and cost. Those who attach personal value to the benefit in excess of the societal threshold would be permitted to use them or insure them, but neither subsidies nor insurance would be required.

Finally, there could be a “discouraging” recommendation. In such cases, the service may be effective but insufficiently effective to justify its cost for the great majority of people.

From the Conclusion

Given that higher premiums can be a consequence of a recommendation, it seems illogical not to explicitly consider the higher costs compared to the benefit but to be explicit about both benefits and the need to consider the options, as we have recommended. This is a comparison, we admit, that clinical decision makers are reluctant or unable to make because it requires something beyond clinical considerations, and there is no alternative under current law and policies other than inconsistent or undesirable behavior. We have instead recommended a three-tier approach based on cost-effectiveness ratios. The precise dollar values that divide tiers is a political and ultimately a societal judgment.

During the crafting of the Affordable Care Act it was decided that prevention should have the highest priority in the delivery of health care services on the basis that it would reduce health care costs by preventing more expensive care, and, more importantly, that preventing disease is better than managing it. Although there is little evidence that preventive care saves money, preventing disease is certainly beneficial.

For that reason it was decided to require that preventive services – including immunizations recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and screening procedures recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) – be fully covered by insurance, with no cost sharing, even if the deductible had not been reached.

The concept that all health care should be a prepaid service with no cost sharing was never considered as an option – much as single payer was excluded from consideration.

Mark Pauly, one of the co-authors of this Health Affairs article, popularized the concept of moral hazard in health insurance – that it was important to require patients to directly bear at least a portion of the costs of health care in order to prevent them from obtaining care for free that they would have forgone if they would have had to pay for it in part or in full. This concept has become an absolute given amongst the health policy wonks in this nation. This “skin in the game” consumer-driven notion has so dominated the policy community that it is being expanded by ever-higher deductibles which likely are contributing to the slowdown in health care spending – an undesirable form of cost containment, as will be explained.

The greatest problem with cost sharing (deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance) is that it has been confirmed that people frequently do forgo beneficial health care when they have to pay a portion or all of the costs of that care. Several other nations with universal systems recognize that problem and thus provide first dollar coverage for health care. This problem was also recognized by Congress when it was decided that preventive services should not be discouraged by making them subject to cost sharing (although it has been shown that plans with high deductibles also cause patients to forgo free preventive services).

It appears that Professor Pauly and his colleagues cringe at the thought of dismissing the moral hazard of accepting free preventive services (free at the time of service). Thus they now propose applying the consumer-directed concept of establishing tiers of preventive services – one for full coverage, a second for full payment out-of-pocket, and a third for discouraging the use of those preventive services as not having enough value (due to inordinately high prices) for anyone to pay for them.

It seems to matter little that the ACIP immunization lists and USPSTF screening tests have undergone decades of rigorous scientific investigation and represent the state of the art in preventive services. This begs the question: How do you overuse preventive services? Rather than disrupting these services because they supposedly constitute a moral hazard it would seem much more logical to use public (government) measures to reduce excess prices, just as they do in other nations.

Of course, a single payer national health program is designed to get pricing right – providing optimal health care value for all of us.

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OECD/WHO/EOHSP report on P4P

Posted by on Friday, Nov 7, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

European Observatory of Health Systems and Policies

Paying for Performance in Health Care: Implications for Health System Performance and Accountability

Edited by Cheryl Cashin, Y-Ling Chi, Peter C. Smith, Michael Borowitz and Sarah Thomson
OECD, WHO, October 6, 2014

Forward from the OECD (excerpts):

The problem is that not enough is known about whether and how P4P actually increases value for money in health systems. The evidence that P4P improves health outcomes, or even quality of processes of care, is limited at best.

(This) volume analyses the experience of P4P programmes in 10 OECD countries, selected to reflect the wide range of health system contexts and challenges across the OECD.

The findings of the volume in many ways mirror the findings of the few rigorous systematic reviews of P4P programmes, and the opinions of many leading commentators. Pay for performance does not lead to “breakthrough” quality improvements, and performance measures and other key building blocks of P4P programmes remain highly inadequate.

This volume will not provide answers to questions such as whether or not P4P works, which performance measures are most appropriate, or what is the right level of financial incentive to get results. Instead – and more importantly for real health financing policy in complicated contexts – are the insights about how P4P might be used to strengthen health system governance and strategic health purchasing to continue the shift taking place in many countries from paying for performance to paying for value.

Mark Pearson, Head of Health Division, Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Chapter thirteen:

United States: California integrated healthcare association physician incentive programme

By Meredith Rosenthal

One of the first, and perhaps the largest, private pay for performance (P4P) initiatives of this era was launched by the Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA) in 2001 with eight health plans representing ten million members in California. The IHA programme is of particular interest not only because of its size, but also because it has been sustained for more than a decade and has been independently evaluated.

Results of the programme:

Performance related to specific indicators

More generally, IHA’s own monitoring reports give a mixed picture of performance improvement over time. Performance measures included in the IHA P4P programme have improved modestly and unevenly across measures, with no evidence of “breakthroughs” in quality improvement.

Programme monitoring and evaluation

Two controlled studies provide the strongest evidence of impact of the IHA initiative. These studies find that not all targeted clinical process measures of quality improved. Among the measures that could be analysed, only cervical cancer screening improved differentially among the IHA participants, and improvement was modest at best.


While there has been no systemic analysis of the impact of the IHA programme on equity, several empirical clues suggest that P4P may not have distributed its benefits equally… (I)interviews with physician group leaders revealed some concerns that the P4P programme has caused groups to avoid patients whose health of health behaviour would negatively affect the group’s performance.

Cost and savings

While no formal analyses have been reported, it is unlikely that improvements in clinical quality, health information technology, and patient experience (to the extent they have occurred) would generate saving for payers.

From the Conclusions

Another possible explanation for the weak results may be the continued expansion of the measure set and the difficulty physician organizations face in making investments in quality improvement when the targets are continuously moving. There is an obvious tension here with the desire to include a comprehensive set of measures to avoid “teaching to the test,” a narrow focus that causes providers to concentrate on a small subset of tasks at the expense of unrewarded domains, and to incorporate the best available measurement science over time.


Designing Smarter Pay-for-Performance Programs

By Aaron McKethan, PhD; Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH
JAMA, November 6, 2014

The idea behind pay for performance is simple. Because individuals and organizations respond to incentives, physicians whose patients achieve desirable outcomes should be paid more as an incentive to improve their performance. Yet the results of pay-for-performance programs have been largely disappointing. One argument is that neither the right set of incentives nor the right set of metrics has been identified. Another explanation, which has received far less attention, is that the right set of patients has not been identified for targeted efforts.

To the extent that higher-risk patients can be reliably identified prospectively, this information can inform the design of smarter, more targeted pay-for-performance programs. Specifically, a targeted pay-for-performance program would have, at its core, a prediction model that would identify patients who are at elevated risk of failing to meet a meaningful clinical goal or of having a bad outcome. Predictive models are not just risk-adjustment models already in use by payers to create a level playing field. Predictive models can take into account any factor that is likely to affect a patient’s chance of a poor outcome.

There is little doubt that the effectiveness of these programs will be driven, in large part, by the ability to prospectively identify at-risk patients. However, given the failure of recent efforts to meaningfully improve outcomes, testing targeted pay for performance may be worth the effort.

Pay for performance (P4P) continues to be promoted as a means of improving quality while reducing costs. This 338 page OECD/WHO report adds to the abundance of the policy literature that shows that P4P does not achieve these goals, and may actually impair equity.

The policy community never gives up on a bad idea. In this JAMA article (access is free), McKethan and Jha suggest that we improve P4P by applying it only to prospectively-identified at-risk patients. Not only would that be a good study, but it could also result in P4P rewards that are five times the current levels. What? Greatly increase the complexity and uncertainty by testing only at-risk patients, if you could even identify them? And then depend on provider greed to drive the program? Come on!

One thoroughly tested model that would greatly reduce wasteful spending while improving quality by redirecting the savings to more appropriate care is the single payer model – a national health program. We can let the policy people go out in the alley and play their P4P games while we get serious about improving Medicare and providing it to everyone.

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What is the evidence for access and quality in Medicare Advantage versus traditional Medicare?

Posted by on Thursday, Nov 6, 2014

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

What Do We Know About Health Care Access and Quality in Medicare Advantage Versus the Traditional Medicare Program?

By Marsha Gold and Giselle Casillas
Kaiser Family Foundation, November 6, 2014

This literature review synthesizes the findings of studies that focus specifically on Medicare and have been published between the year 2000 and early 2014. Forty-five studies met the criteria for selection, including 40 that made direct comparisons between Medicare health plans and traditional Medicare. An additional five studies are included, even though they have no traditional Medicare comparison group.


Despite great interest in comparisons between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, studies comparing overall quality and access to care between Medicare Advantage plans and traditional Medicare tend to be based on relatively old data, and a limited set of measures.

On the one hand, the evidence indicates that Medicare HMOs tend to perform better than traditional Medicare in providing preventive services and using resources more conservatively, at least through 2009. These are metrics where HMOs have historically been strong. On the other hand, beneficiaries continue to rate traditional Medicare more favorably than Medicare Advantage plans in terms of quality and access, such as overall care and plan rating, though one study suggests that the difference may be narrowing between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage for the average beneficiary. Among beneficiaries who are sick, the differential between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage is particularly large (relative to those who are healthy), favoring traditional Medicare. Very few studies include evidence based on all types of Medicare Advantage plans, including analysis of performance for newer models, such as local and regional PPOs whose enrollment is growing.

As the beneficiary population ages, better evidence is needed on how Medicare Advantage plans perform relative to traditional Medicare for patients with significant medical needs that make them particularly vulnerable to poorer care. The ability to assess quality and access for such subgroups is limited because many data sources do not allow subgroups to be identified or have too small a sample size to support estimates. Also, in many cases, metrics employed may not be specific to the particular needs or the way a patient’s overall health and functional status or other comorbid conditions influence the care they receive.

At a time when enrollment in Medicare Advantage is growing, it is disappointing that better information is not available to inform policymaking. Our findings highlight the gaps in available evidence and reinforce the potential value of strengthening available data and other support for tracking and monitoring performance across Medicare Advantage plans and traditional Medicare as each sector evolves.…


An Emerging Consensus: Medicare Advantage Is Working And Can Deliver Meaningful Reform

By Thomas Miller and James Capretta
Health Affairs Blog, November 6, 2014

The success of Medicare Advantage in recent years is changing the conversation on Medicare reform.  It is now possible to envision genuine bipartisan support for fair competition between MA plans and FFS.  The “premium support” concept still engenders highly politicized opposition in some quarters.  But support for the idea has also begun to cross ideological divides.

Premium support is of course a complex reform.  It requires risk adjustment of payments and regulation of plans to ensure fair competition.  But the risk adjustment system and the regulation need not be perfect for the reform to work; indeed, the system already in place today for MA plans should provide sufficient confidence that a competitive reform model would be beneficial for the program’s participants.

The main obstacle to more intensive competition in Medicare has been distrust.  MA advocates believe the bureaucracy will tilt the playing field toward FFS; and FFS defenders believe private plans will find new ways to risk select and game the system or to influence policymakers to provide them with overly generous terms on their payment rates.…

Today two new papers were released designed to give us greater insight on the relative value of the traditional Medicare program and the private Medicare Advantage plans. What can we learn from these reports?

It is well established that Medicare Advantage plans are paid more per patient than the costs of providing care for comparable patients in the traditional Medicare program. They continue to market their plans to healthier patients and yet they artificially magnify a touch of illness for purposes of receiving greater payments based on risk adjustment. Although the Affordable Care Act requires a gradual reduction in these overpayments, concessions have been made by the Obama administration to reduce the impact of these adjustments. The taxpayers continue to receive inferior value from their investment in the private Medicare Advantage plans.

The comprehensive literature review from Kaiser Family Foundation concludes that the information available unfortunately is quite limited. They do conclude that Medicare HMOs are able to achieve higher scores in providing preventive services – likely because of their IT systems that flag items that would improve their quality rating scores. Medicare HMOs also use resources more conservatively, which raises the concern that they could be withholding appropriate care.

Perhaps the most important conclusion from the Kaiser review is the finding that the differential in quality and access for beneficiaries who are sick is particularly large, relative to those who are healthy, between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage plans may have learned how to score well on teach-to-the-test quality measures, but they fall far short of traditional Medicare in patients’ real world health care experiences.

The Health Affairs Blog article by Miller and Capretta needs to be recognized for what it is – a political tract. They claim that “evidence mounts that MA plans can deliver more efficient and higher quality care than FFS” – a claim based more on their ideological preferences for a privatized Medicare rather than on a comprehensive review of the health policy literature. They then use that conclusion to advocate for a premium support proposal that would further privatize Medicare.

They state that the main obstacle to increasing public and private Medicare plan competition is distrust. They say that Medicare Advantage advocates believe that bureaucrats will tilt the playing field toward traditional Medicare, yet the facts are that the Obama administration has been tilting the field towards the Medicare Advantage plans instead. They also say that the traditional Medicare advocates “believe private plans will find new ways to risk select and game the system or to influence policymakers to provide them with overly generous terms on their payment rates.” Of course, those are not just beliefs but are well documented facts. We are paying more for private insurers to game the system at our expense.

Although neither of these reports provides new evidence that would change our opinions on private Medicare Advantage plans, they do reinforce our view that we should not listen to ideologues who care more about markets than about patients. Instead we should continue to support our traditional Medicare program that puts patients first, although we do need to improve it and then expand it to cover everyone.

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