The Supreme Court decision

Posted by on Thursday, Jun 28, 2012

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.

The Supreme Court Ruling on the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act

Go ahead and wade through the cacophony of responses to the Supreme Court decision. It should be a fascinating excursion through society’s exposed soul at its finest, and at its worst. Some of the responses you will hear will rely on refined cognitive processes and others on fundamental reflexive emotions.

You will not hear much new. The sounds will only be louder and more concentrated. Most of you will be able to sort the good policies from the bad policies and identify the special interest sources of the various proposals. Most of us know to keep foremost in our thoughts the only special interest that counts – the patient – with the full understanding that special interests which truly support patients are the ones that we want to pull out of the chaff, leaving behind those such as the private insurers who would serve others using the patient only as marketplace chattel.

We need to continue to guard against the “sound-good” proposals that would seem to move us incrementally toward a high performance system that serves all patients well. By incremental proposals we are not referring to important measures such as reinforcing the primary care infrastructure and expanding the presence of community health centers in underserved communities. Improving the effectiveness and quality of the health care delivery system is a continual process that must always be with us.

The sound-good incremental steps are those that would seem to move us in the right direction but are more like trying to walk up the steep side of a mountain in deep, loose sand. The steps seem to go forward, but the peak is never reached. Yet we will hear pleas to move up this slope. We have been climbing this slope for half of a century, and it’s time to look for another route.

Many will plead to keep the glass half full now that the Act has been upheld, while others of us will complain about the glass being half empty. It is time to end this petty fray when we can have a full glass – affordable, high quality care for everyone – simply by enacting a single payer national health program. Call it an improved and expanded Medicare for all, if you will.

(Yes, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate survives as a tax, and that Medicaid is limited but not invalidated. But these decisions have been only a diversion, and thus are included here only as a parenthetical remark. The decisions were limited to an Act that merely tweaks the status quo, when what we need is a new act that rejects the status quo. The Supreme Court does not have the authority to bring us that act. Above all, we must guard against celebrating the fact that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, if that should mean that we would walk away from the reform that we desperately need.)

The Supreme Court decision will not eliminate the private insurers

Posted by on Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012

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.

Private Insurance Is Bankrupting Americans: Is Congress Paying Attention?

By Diane Archer
Health Affairs Blog, June 26, 2012

Over the last decade, health insurance costs doubled for the average family of four, and health costs ate away at real income, eliminating any wage gains that occurred.

Health insurance premiums (for both employers and workers) now amount to one-quarter of median family income and are projected to rise to 35 percent in the next decade. And these higher premiums are buying thinner and thinner coverage: We are paying more and more every time we go to the doctor or hospital – deductibles and copays have risen rapidly over the last decade. The share of workers paying a deductible greater than $1,000 has risen from 10 percent to over 30 percent since 2006.

Costs are rising for employers as well, and the share of workers who even receive insurance from their employer is plummeting, having fallen from more than 69 percent to 61 percent in the last 10 years.  Meanwhile, fewer large employers continue to offer supplemental coverage to retirees. Since the early 1990s, the percentage of large employers offering retiree coverage has fallen from 40 percent to only 21 percent.

Shifting Americans with Medicare into private pools is not a serious solution to the rising cost of health care, given the far higher costs in the private sector. Privatizing Medicare, or even raising the age of eligibility and forcing more of our parents and grandparents into the commercial market, would actually raise overall costs, and it would only save the government money by forcing more of the cost burden onto people who cannot afford it.

http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2012/06/26/private-insurance-is-bankrupting-americans-is-congress-paying-attention/

Regardless of tomorrow’s Supreme Court decision on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the status quo is dependent on private insurance and the Affordable Care Act model is dependent on private insurance, yet private insurance has been a miserable failure.

You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to decide what approach should be taken in response to the Supreme Court decision. You can start immediately with efforts to replace the private insurers with an improved Medicare for all.

Private Medicare Advantage plans being paid for phantom care of VA patients

Posted by on Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012

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.

Duplicate Federal Payments for Dual Enrollees in Medicare Advantage Plans and the Veterans Affairs Health Care System

By Amal N. Trivedi, MD, MPH; Regina C. Grebla, MGA, MPH, PhD; Lan Jiang, MS; Jean Yoon, PhD; Jent Mor, PhD; Kenneth W. Kizer, MD, MPH
JAMA, June 26, 2012

Abstract

Context: Some veterans are eligible to enroll simultaneously in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan and the Veterans Affairs health care system (VA). This scenario produces the potential for redundant federal spending because MA plans would receive payments to insure veterans who receive care from the VA, another taxpayer-funded health plan.

Objective: To quantify the prevalence of dual enrollment in VA and MA, the concurrent use of health services in each setting, and the estimated costs of VA care provided to MA enrollees.

Design: Retrospective analysis of 1 245 657 veterans simultaneously enrolled in the VA and an MA plan between 2004-2009.

Main Outcome Measures: Use of health services and inflation-adjusted estimated VA health care costs.

Results: Among individuals who were eligible to enroll in the VA and in an MA plan, the number of persons dually enrolled increased from 485 651 in 2004 to 924 792 in 2009. In 2009, 8.3% of the MA population was enrolled in the VA and 5.0% of MA beneficiaries were VA users. The estimated VA health care costs for MA enrollees totaled $13.0 billion over 6 years, increasing from $1.3 billion in 2004 to $3.2 billion in 2009. Among dual enrollees, 10% exclusively used the VA for outpatient and acute inpatient services, 35% exclusively used the MA plan, 50% used both the VA and MA, and 4% received no services during the calendar year. The VA financed 44% of all outpatient visits (n = 21 353 841), 15% of all acute medical and surgical admissions (n = 177 663), and 18% of all acute medical and surgical inpatient days (n = 1 106 284) for this dually enrolled population. In 2009, the VA billed private insurers $52.3 million to reimburse care provided to MA enrollees and collected $9.4 million (18% of the billed amount; 0.3% of the total cost of care).

Conclusions: The federal government spends a substantial and increasing amount of potentially duplicative funds in 2 separate managed care programs for the care of same individuals.

http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1197014#AuthorInformation

Most veterans who are eligible for enrollment in the Veterans Administration health care system are also eligible for enrollment in Medicare when they turn 65. Many of these veterans elect to enroll in the publicly-financed but private Medicare Advantage plans. This study shows that these private plans benefit greatly by receiving full capitation payments for all care in spite of the fact that they avoid the costs of the care that is actually delivered in our publicly-financed VA system. Thus taxpayers are paying twice for the same care – real care in the VA system and phantom care under the Medicare Advantage plans.

The authors suggest that rules could be changed to rectify this. Either the VA could be authorized to bill the private Medicare Advantage plans for care delivered by the VA (currently prohibited by federal law – a law dating back to before private Medicare plans were available), or the capitation payments to the Medicare Advantage plans could be adjusted downward to reflect the use of VA facilities.

There is a far better choice. The traditional Medicare program could be improved by expanding benefits and eliminating out-of-pocket cost sharing. Then we could get rid of the private Medicare Advantage plans with their profound administrative waste and the restrictions in health care choices that they inflict upon their patients. The VA-eligible patient would be able to choose either Medicare or the VA system, but regardless, we would be paying for the care only once, instead of twice like we are now.

In fact, the improved Medicare system would be so effective that we should all be able to have it as participants in a single payer national health program. Providing veterans with the choice of the VA system would not be much different from providing the rest of us with the choice of an integrated health care delivery system such as Kaiser Permanente. It would be just another health care delivery option under an improved Medicare for all.

What about the insurance subsidies?

Posted by on Monday, Jun 25, 2012

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 Reform Subsidy Calculator

Kaiser Family Foundation

Based on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (including subsequent amendments in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), as signed by the President.

The premiums are illustrative examples in 2014 dollars derived from estimates of average premiums for 2016 from the Congressional Budget Office.

Premium subsidies are based on a silver plan (with an actuarial value of 70%), so all premiums shown are for silver coverage. People may be able to pay a lower premium for less comprehensive coverage (i.e., a bronze plan, with an actuarial value of 60%). The tables showing results by age and income also reflect premiums for silver coverage, though the minimum insurance that people would be required to obtain would be bronze coverage.

The actual premium calculated is adjusted for family type, and for age (within the three to one limit specified in the proposal). Subsidized people can enroll in more expensive plans, but must pay the full difference in the premium.

Health Reform Subsidy Calculator:
http://healthreform.kff.org/SubsidyCalculator.aspx#incomeAgeTables

On June 28, the Supreme Court will release its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. If the full Act is repealed, individuals who would have purchased plans in the state insurance exchanges will receive neither their premium subsidies nor their tax credits for out-of-pocket expenses. What precisely would they be losing?

Let’s use the Health Reform Subsidy Calculator to check a few examples. In each example, we will assume that the policyholder is 45, has a family of four, and does not have employer coverage available. For this family living in a region with a medium cost factor, the predicted premium for the silver plan (70% actuarial value) is $14,245. In the examples, we will change only the income level.

Income:  $31,155 (133% of poverty)
Premium payment:  None – covered by Medicaid
Maximum out-of-pocket costs:  None – covered by Medicaid

Income:  $31,156 (133% of poverty plus $1)
Premium payment:  $935
Maximum out-of-pocket costs:  $4,167

Note that at this level, one additional dollar of income results in the family losing the more comprehensive benefits of the Medicaid program, and mandates that they pay a premium of $935 plus potential out-of-pocket expenses of $4,167, for a total exposure of $5,202. That’s a staggering amount at this income level. Compliance surely would be a problem, not by lack of will but simply by inability to pay.

Income:  $93,700 (400% of poverty)
Premium payment:  $8,901
Maximum out-of-pocket costs:  $8,333

Income:  $93,701 (400% of poverty plus $1)
Premium payment:  $14,245
Maximum out-of-pocket costs:  $12,500

So at an income of $93,700, the premium would be $8,901 and the potential out-of-pocket costs would be $8,333, for a total exposure of $17,234. That is quite a dent for a family that is trying to save for two college educations, a retirement fund, and maybe for replacement of the broken-down family automobile. But add just one more dollar of income and the premium shoots up to $14,245 and potential out-of-pocket expenses to $12,500, for a total of $26,745. Then what are you going to cut out of the family budget? And isn’t the $9,511 increase quite a “tax” to pay on that one dollar of additional income?

Just the premium increase alone might cause this family to downgrade their coverage from silver (70% actuarial value) to bronze (60%) in order to save on the premium. If so, this family literally would be placing a bet that none of them would develop a serious medical problem, and it would lose the bet if any of them did so. Should we really be forcing a family to gamble on its health care coverage?

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, all of this goes away, and many more would remain with no coverage at all. That would be tragic. But even if the Act is upheld, this coverage is still far from satisfactory, and should be unacceptable as a standard for our nation. Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, we should replace the Affordable Care Act with a program that really does work: a single payer, improved Medicare for all.

Innovation leader – Medicare or private insurance?

Posted by on Friday, Jun 22, 2012

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.

How Medicare Solves Private Plans’ Problems and Vice Versa

By Austin Frakt, PhD
JAMA Forum, June 21, 2012

In a new article in the Annual Review of Economics, Katherine Baicker, Amitabh Chandra, and Jon Skinner point out some of the ways Medicare has helped solve a coordination problem among private plans:

“It is natural to ask why private providers have not adopted ACOs [Accountable Care Organizations, groups that give coordinated health care and for whom payment is tied to achieving health care quality outcomes and goals that can lead to cost savings] or more bundled payments on their own. This remains a puzzle. One explanation is that it is a coordination problem—all insurers may want to adopt larger bundled payments, but no single insurer can make the transition. This is certainly consistent with the historical record on the adoption of prospective payment for hospital care. Once it was introduced in Medicare, private plans were quick to adopt it. Similarly, private hospitals were quick to use the federal government’s efforts to measure quality of care even though nothing stopped them from forming consortiums to measure quality before these federal efforts.”

Their points are generally valid in that it’s common for private plans to adopt certain types of payment reforms and quality monitoring after these measures are introduced in Medicare but not before. Nevertheless, there are some examples of ACO-like contracts made by private plans ahead of the Medicare counterparts. And that doesn’t count the failed attempts at capitation (establishing a dollar amount to cover the cost of health care services provided for an individual during a specified length of time) by private insurers and provider groups in the 1990s. I don’t think this invalidates the general point the authors make. It seems Medicare has solved a coordination problem among private insurers.

Indeed, some of the things Medicare will do are properly viewed as public goods. All but a handful of large, dominant health plans cannot convince large hospital systems to accept a new form of payment system. But Medicare can. What health plan will do its own comparative effectiveness analysis to determine which interventions work best for managing a condition? Medicare will or could. The results of both of these types of innovations, and others, will be public information and can benefit all plans and all consumers.

History shows that Medicare has done some things private plans seem unable to do, and then private plans voluntarily copy Medicare. But it goes the other way too.

For example, private plans have innovated in ways that traditional Medicare has not. Managed care, consumer-directed health plans, prescription drug benefits, and catastrophic coverage all exist or existed in the commercial market before adoption by Medicare (if ever). In some cases, the Medicare program, though not the traditional fee-for-service arm of Medicare itself, followed private plans’ lead, adding managed care plans (Medicare Advantage) and a prescription drug benefit (Part D), for example.

There does seem to be a coordination problem among private plans that Medicare solves. Likewise, the private sector sometimes does a better job of designing health plan options. That both plan types, private and government, play a worthwhile role needn’t be shocking or blasphemous. The fact that they both play worthwhile roles ought to be widely acknowledged. Naturally, it often isn’t—least of all, it seems, in our politically charged health policy debates.

http://newsatjama.jama.com/2012/06/21/jama-forum-how-medicare-solves-private-plans-problems-and-vice-versa/

Austin Frakt makes the point that both Medicare and the private health insurers have each independently introduced innovations that then can help the other when these innovations are shared. But when you look at the respective innovations, it becomes obvious which innovator it is that truly serves the interests of patients.

Medicare attempts to create greater value when using taxpayer and premium dollars for the payment of health care services. Thus you see innovations such as the adoption of prospective payment for hospital care. We benefit both as taxpayers and as patients.

Look at the innovations of private insurers that Frakt mentions: managed care, consumer-directed health plans, and prescription drug benefit plans. These designs take away choice of health care professionals and institutions, choice of drug benefits, and also erect financial barriers between the patient and health care. Here the process of innovation is not used to benefit patients, but rather is designed to enhance the business model of the intermediary intruder – the private insurance plans.

Frakt points out that these private innovations are being used by Medicare in the private Medicare Advantage plans and in the private Part D Medicare drug benefit. True, but these are terrible innovations to introduce into Medicare because they waste funds and reduce choice while increasing administrative complexity. Medicare’s adoption of private innovations has been a bad thing, not a good thing.

Coordinated care is certainly beneficial and should be expected regardless of whether Medicare or private insurers are paying the bills. There may be instances where bundling of payment would be appropriate, just as capitation has been appropriate in selected circumstances. If it benefits both taxpayers and patients, it would be appropriate. The risk is that the business mind of the private insurers will most likely morph accountable care organizations into intermediary intruders designed to benefit third party payers, likely at a cost to patients. That is not a desirable innovation.

Frakt does make the important point that Medicare does not provide catastrophic coverage, whereas some private plans do. Medicare certainly should as well. But that’s not really a private plan innovation; it’s merely a benefit that should have been included in Medicare in the first place. That is one more reason why we advocate for an improved Medicare for all, rather than merely for a universal expansion of the existing Medicare program.

Government can do it. In fact, it is leading on the catastrophic coverage benefit by making it a requirement through the Affordable Care Act. Innovation in the private sector benefits the private sector. Innovation in the government serves the public interest. Trading public and private innovation is not in our interest when we come out the losers.

Update on deaths from being uninsured

Posted by on Thursday, Jun 21, 2012

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.

Dying for Coverage: The Deadly Consequences of Being Uninsured

Families USA
June 2012

Key Findings

* Across the nation, 26,100 people between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage in 2010.

* Between 2005 and 2010, the number of people who died prematurely each year due to a lack of health coverage rose from 20,350 to 26,100.

* Between 2005 and 2010, the total number of people who died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage was 134,120.

Why Insurance Matters

* The uninsured are less likely to have a usual source of care outside of the emergency room.

* The uninsured often go without screenings and preventive care.

* The uninsured often delay or forgo needed medical care.

* Uninsured Americans are sicker and die earlier than those who have insurance.

* The uninsured pay more for medical care.

http://familiesusa2.org/assets/pdfs/Dying-for-Coverage.pdf

In 2010, about 26,000 of the nearly 50 million people without health insurance died due to the lack of that insurance. At best, about 26 million people will remain uninsured if the Affordable Care act is upheld by the Supreme Court. That means that we will continue to accept about 13,000 deaths per year as a consequence of our failure to enact a single payer national health program.

It is one thing to accept inordinate financial waste in our system in order to cater to the private insurance industry, but it is quite another to accept so much suffering and death. The former reflects on our illogical willingness to accept social injustices in order to cater to the moneyed class, but to knowingly accept the latter reflects on the most basic moral fiber of our society.

Is it that people don’t understand? Or are we really that animalistic?

Addendum:

Today’s Quote of the Day used updated numbers from Families USA on the number of deaths that result from being uninsured. Their numbers were based on the 2002 methodology of the Institute of Medicine.
However, under “Methodology,” the Families USA report states, “A study published by Harvard Medical School researchers late in 2009 that used more recent data found that the lack of health insurance now raises mortality rates by 40 percent. If we had applied the latter estimate of the impact of uninsurance on mortality, rather than the 25 percent figure used by the IOM, our mortality estimates would have increased substantially.”
The numbers are worse than those reported earlier today. Rather than zeroing in on sterile recalculations, let’s think about the real people whose lives are lost and what we need to do to prevent that in the future.
The Harvard study, authored by co-founders of PNHP and their colleagues:

NHIS report on insurance coverage

Posted by on Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012

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 Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, 2011

By Robin A. Cohen, Ph.D., and Michael E. Martinez, M.P.H., M.H.S.A.
CDC, Division of Health Interview Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics
June 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is releasing selected estimates of health insurance coverage for the civilian noninstitutionalized U.S. population based on data from the 2011 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

* In 2011, 46.3 million persons of all ages (15.1%) were uninsured at the time of interview, 58.7 million (19.2%) had been uninsured for at least part of the year prior to interview, and 34.2 million (11.2%) had been uninsured for more than a year at the time of interview.

* In 2011, the percentage of children under age 18 years who were uninsured at the time of interview was 7.0%.

* Among adults aged 19–25, the percentage uninsured at the time of interview decreased from 33.9% (10 million persons) in 2010 to 27.9% (8.4 million) in 2011.

* Among adults aged 19–25, 56.2% were covered by a private plan in 2011, an increase from 2010 (51.0%).

Estimates of enrollment in HDHPs and CDHPs

Based on data from the 2011 NHIS, 29.0% of persons under age 65 with private health insurance were enrolled in an HDHP (high-deductible health plan), including 9.2% who were enrolled in a CDHP (consumer-directed health plan) and 19.9% who were enrolled in an HDHP without a health savings account (HSA). Enrollment in HDHPs increased from 25.3% in 2010 to 29.0% in 2011. There was a significant increase in enrollment in HDHPs without HSAs, and in CDHPs, between 2007 (when NHIS started collecting this information) and 2011.

Based on data from 2011, among persons under age 65 with private health insurance, 26.9% with employment-based coverage were enrolled in an HDHP, compared with 52.4% of those with a private plan that was directly purchased or obtained through means other than employment. The percentage of persons covered by employment-based private plans who were enrolled in HDHPs increased from 15.6% in 2007 to 26.9% in 2011. The percentage of persons covered by directly purchased private health plans who were enrolled in HDHPs increased from 39.2% in 2007 to 52.4% in 2011.

Insurance coverage by poverty status

The percentage of poor children who were uninsured at the time of interview decreased from 1997 through 2011. During the same period, the percentage of poor adults who were uninsured remained relatively stable.

Among children, all poverty status groups experienced an increase in public coverage between 1997 and 2011. However, the largest increase was seen among near poor children, for whom coverage by a public plan increased by 36.5 percentage points during the same period.

The rate of private coverage among near poor children was 25.1 percentage points lower in 2011 than in 1997. Among near poor children the percentage without health insurance and the percentage with private health insurance coverage have declined since 1997, while public coverage has increased. Private coverage generally decreased among near poor adults aged 18–64, from 52.6% in 1997 to 35.4% in 2011, so that the uninsured rate is now higher than the private coverage rate for this population. Private coverage among not poor adults aged 18–64 generally decreased from 1997 through 2011.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/insur201206.pdf

The good news is that the percentage of individuals uninsured at the time of the National Health Interview Survey declined from 16.0% in 2010 to 15.1% in 2011. The improvements were primarily due to an increase in enrollment of children in public programs, and an increase in enrollment of young adults in their parents’ private insurance plans.

If the Affordable Care Act is upheld, we can anticipate a further increase in enrollment in Medicaid. If not, at least public coverage for low-income children should be maintained.

The more alarming news in this report is the increase in high-deductible health plans, both those acquired through employment and especially those purchased in the individual market. The increase in private coverage made possible through the establishment of state insurance exchanges will be in lower-actuarial value plans – primarily high-deductible plans. Also employers are expected to shift more of their plans to high-deductible coverage.

High-deductible plans equate with underinsurance. These plans leave people with health care needs vulnerable to financial barriers to care. With this report, once again we see that underinsurance is becoming the new standard in America. That wouldn’t occur if we were to adopt an improved Medicare for all.

Health reform skewed by profiteers and the Supreme Court

Posted by on Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012

By George Pauk, M.D.

The Affordable Care Act, whose fate currently rests in the hands of the Supreme Court, has been characterized by some politicians as a major health reform. In fact, the law represents only a small increment of change. From a system standpoint, it hardly rocks the boat. It keeps for-profit health care corporations in the driver’s seat.

The ACA was carefully crafted to avoid upsetting the “gorilla in the room” – the private insurance industry – and was largely tailored to benefit that industry, particularly by facilitating the expansion of its customer base by at least 16 million people and lavishing it with over $447 billion of taxpayer money.

The last major health reform worthy of the name was the 1965 enactment of Medicare, a publicly funded program that has sharply reduced poverty, relieved suffering and saved countless lives. The ACA’s impact, if it is upheld by the court, will be much more modest by comparison. The main reason why: it leaves our population firmly in the grip of the avaricious private insurers with a class and employment based and fragmented system.

The arguments over the ACA at the Supreme Court last March were illuminating. Did you hear the justices, lawyers, and politicians on both sides of the law opining with authority about our health care? Wow, they seem to really think they know their pathology, epidemiology, pharmacology and health care “system-ology.”

I remember wondering at the time if I should ask Chief Justice Roberts for advice about my gall bladder or just how much broccoli I should eat.

Unfortunately, Congress and the White House have succumbed to the blandishments of the medical-industrial complex. They’ve become captives to corporate lobbyists and big campaign donors. As a result, they’ve spurned the voices of those most qualified to speak about health care: our nation’s patients and the health professionals who care for them.

Most on-the-ground health care providers (including physicians, nurses, social workers and therapists) believe that private insurance companies represent unnecessary, profit-seeking middlemen who should be replaced by a single-payer, publicly financed program providing truly universal, comprehensive care: i.e. an improved Medicare for All.

A peer-reviewed survey in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2008 showed 59 percent of U.S. physicians now support government legislation to establish national health insurance, a jump of 10 percentage points from just five years before.

Polls, surveys and “citizen juries” have consistently shown that two-thirds of the public agrees with the idea of improving the Medicare program and expanding it to cover every person in the United States from birth to death. Just drop two words, “over sixty-five”.

The main obstacle to achieving this commonsense goal (and the main factor causing the deterioration of health in the United States today) has been the corporate takeover of health care and the for-profit health industry’s political lobbying.

Corporate lawyers, politicians, and business people have run us through a dizzying spin of HMOs, PPOs and the latest fad, ACOs, and through other so-called reforms with the goal of establishing privatized, corporate profit centers.

Today, it is more or less accepted as a given that health care CEOs “earn” yearly rewards in the tens of million dollars for making profits off the sickness of our patients. Unfortunately, the remaining nonprofits have adopted many for-profit practices.

Yet it is clear that the private insurers’ brutal denial and delays in authorizing care result in enormous human suffering and the premature death of many thousands each year.

The insurance industry is not like a physician or nurse, whose goal is to provide good care for a patient. The insurers know they will be rewarded by allowing less care, or by denying care. Such denials boost the insurers’ bottom line. Ethics goes out the window in this callous calculation. Cost control of health care is also not in the interest of business simply because larger volumes of funds provides larger profits.

We now await the Supreme Court ruling. The court, which has generally favored corporate interests, may rule to uphold the law or to strike it down, in whole or in part. In either case, we’ll still end up saddled with the greedy private insurers.

We can’t go on like this. It’s immoral and economically unsustainable. Whatever the court’s ruling is, our nation needs to immediately move to enact true reform: a single-payer system, otherwise known as an improved Medicare for all.

Dr. George Pauk lives in Phoenix, where he practiced internal medicine and endocrinology until his recent retirement. He is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org).

Massachusetts model fails to provide financial security for the sick

Posted by on Monday, Jun 18, 2012

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.

SICK IN MASSACHUSETTS: Views on Health Care Costs and Quality

Harvard School of Public Health/WBUR/Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
June 2012

This poll examines the views of sick adults in Massachusetts regarding the cost and quality of health care in the state as well as their perceptions about their own health care in the past year. “Sick” adults in Massachusetts (27% of adults) are defined as those who said they had a serious illness, medical condition, injury, or disability requiring a lot of medical care or had been hospitalized overnight in the previous 12 months. Focusing on the experiences and opinions of those who have had significant recent medical care yields special insight into the current problems and opportunities facing Massachusetts’ health care system.

Today most sick adults in Massachusetts see the cost of health care as a serious problem for the state, and they view the problem as having gotten worse over the past five years. Sick adults are more troubled by costs than they are by quality.

Although Massachusetts has nearly universal health insurance coverage, the costs of health care are a serious financial problem for many sick adults and their families. Some sick adults report having been refused medical care for financial or insurance reasons. Additionally, some sick adults say they did not get needed medial care because they could not afford it. Taken together, these finding suggest that insurance coverage does not protect some Massachusetts residents against the financial hardships of illness, likely reflecting recent trends in higher deductibles and co-payments.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/96682782/Sick-in-Massachusetts

This survey is particularly important because it provides the real life health care financing experiences of patients who have serious medical problems – precisely those for whom the system should be designed to serve.

In Massachusetts, “Forty percent of sick adults in the state said the out-of-pocket costs of medical care are a ‘very serious’ (16%) or ‘somewhat serious’ (24%) problem for them.” Obviously the financing system is not serving well those individuals with major medical needs.

Another significant finding: “About a quarter of sick adults (24%) who have been insured at any time during the past year say they have had a problem with their insurance paying a hospital, doctor, or other health care provider in the past 12 months.” Thus the insurers are not doing their job either.

Since the Affordable Care Act uses a financing design similar to that of Massachusetts, we can anticipate the same miserable performance for the nation, or more likely even worse because of other design flaws in ACA.

At a minimum, we should expect the health care financing system to work well for those with serious problems. The ACA design won’t cut it. We really do need a single payer national health program that would work well for all of us.

Small businesses support beneficial health reform policies

Posted by on Friday, Jun 15, 2012

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.

Small Business Owners’ Views on Implementing the Affordable Care Act

Small Business Majority
June 14, 2012

Executive Summary

The rising cost of health insurance has been and continues to be one of the biggest problems facing American small business owners. To help relieve them of that financial burden, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010—a piece of legislation that is already reining in Americans’ health coverage costs. More than two years later, the law’s fate rests in the hands of nine Supreme Court justices who are expected to issue their decision this month in the case against the law. According to scientific opinion polling, only one-third of small business owners would like to see them overturn it. On the other hand, half would like to see it upheld with, at most, only minor changes. This support grows after learning more details about its key provisions.

The poll, conducted in eight states with diverse political profiles—Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Texas and Virginia—found that once small business owners hear more about the healthcare law, their support for keeping it intact—either as is or with minor changes—rises to a 56% majority, while the desire for repeal falls to 28%—a 2:1 margin. Moreover, entrepreneurs strongly support many of its key provisions affecting small business owners.

One of the law’s crucial components, which has tremendous small business support, is the health insurance exchange—an online marketplace where small business owners will be able to pool their buying power when they purchase coverage. By a striking 8:1 ratio, owners say they would use their state exchange or at least consider using it, compared to those who say they would not consider using it when they provide benefits. The majority of entrepreneurs find possible features of the exchange very appealing, and, by a 2:1 ratio, they support their state applying for federal funds to set one up.

Furthermore, half of entrepreneurs report they’d be more likely to purchase insurance through the exchange beginning in 2014 when the small business tax credit will be available only to those using the exchange. That’s more than three times the number (14%) who say they’d be less likely to purchase from the exchange. Of respondents who fall into the basic qualification parameters for the tax credit, more than half are already taking advantage of it. Of eligible employers who aren’t claiming it, nearly half say it’s because they are not aware it exists. And nearly half of entrepreneurs say that if their company qualified for the credit, they would be more likely to provide or continue providing healthcare to their employees.

Significant majorities of small business owners also support nearly all the other provisions we asked them about: medical loss ratio, rate review, pre-existing condition exclusion bans, eliminating annual dollar limits on insurance benefits, preventing rating based on health status or sex and more.

Finally the poll revealed a strong interest (67%) in workplace wellness programs, if these programs would help lower coverage costs.

http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/downloads/Small_Business_Owners_Views_on_ACA.pdf

Rather than asking about a broad spectrum of health reform policies, this poll was limited to questions about policies contained in the Affordable Care Act. From this poll no conclusions can be drawn about opinions of policies specific to single payer, but we can conclude that small business owners clearly do want reform that serves them and their employees better than the status quo in health care.

It remains our task to inform them that the policies of the single payer model will serve them far better than the meager policies of the Affordable Care Act. The majority of small business owners would support an improved Medicare for all if they had a clear understanding of the policies behind it, since it’s far better for them than ACA.

Let’s get to work and let them know the possibilities.

About this blog

Physicians for a National Health Program's blog serves to facilitate communication among physicians and the public. The views presented on this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of PNHP.

News from activists

PNHP Chapters and Activists are invited to post news of their recent speaking engagements, events, Congressional visits and other activities on PNHP’s blog in the “News from Activists” section.