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
* 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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 Business Owners’ Views on Implementing the Affordable Care Act
Small Business Majority
June 14, 2012
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.
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.
Navigating the Health Care Maze
By Abby Goodnough
The New York Times, June 12, 2012
Even if the Supreme Court strikes down the federal mandate, many people believe that some form of exchanges could still be crucial to expanding coverage in a number of states. In Massachusetts, insurers bid to participate in the Connector — offering plans that include some level of hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity care and other services deemed essential by the state — and the Connector uses its market leverage and unique guidelines to promote innovation and competition among them.
“It can — and it has — helped people find more affordable options than they otherwise knew existed,” said Glen Shor, executive director of the Connector.
A vast majority of the people who have gotten insurance through the Connector since the economic downturn began have not had to worry about deductibles because they qualify for subsidized coverage. In that program, the big challenge has been keeping costs down as enrollment has steadily climbed.
One strategy has been to reward the lowest-cost insurers in Commonwealth Care, the subsidized program, by driving customers to them. (For example, people who pay no premium because of their income can choose between the two lowest-cost insurers.) Some insurers have responded by limiting which doctors and hospitals customers can use.
Such limitations are controversial, but Mr. Shor said limited-network plans are just the kind of cost-saving innovation that exchanges are well-positioned to bring about by promoting competition in the market.
One of the greatest strategic errors in this entire health care reform process has been to fixate on the promotion of competition in the health care market. An example of how deviant this has been is the push to expand limited-network plans.
Think about it. What we want is our choice of hospitals and our health care professionals. What the insurance industry has done is to package their own selection of hospitals and professionals into limited networks, and then prohibit our access to out-of-network care unless we pay prohibitive financial penalties. For this, collectively we are paying even more in wasteful administrative costs. It is totally illogical to pay for extra administrative services designed to artificially take away our choices in the health care market.
Think of what it would be like if we did that with housing. Imagine the government mandating us to select a residential benefits plan. Suppose when we were ready to rent or purchase a residence the third party administrative agency told us that we could have access to only residential buildings within their limited network, though we would have our choice of bronze, silver, gold or platinum houses or apartments. Adding to the insult, collectively we would have to pay extra to this administrative agency that artificially takes away our choices.
What if third parties in the private market were able to corner the food industry and contract with them to create artificial limited-network food plans, with a government mandate that we had to select one of the plans? Within the segregated food market you could shop bronze, silver, gold or platinum selections based on the food insurance premium paid. You could shop outside of the segregated markets, but only by paying large financial penalties. Again, collectively we would be paying extra to meet the costs of this intrusive third party administrator that would be taking away our choices.
Shifting competition in food markets from producers and retailers to an artificial third party administrator, or shifting competition in housing from the builders or landlords to an artificial third party administrator is about as logical as shifting competition in health care from the hospitals and professionals to an artificial third party administrator, all of which would charge us extra for taking away our choices. We wouldn’t tolerate that in food or housing. Why should we continue to tolerate it in health care?
Another word about our obsession with competition. The policy community recognizes that much of the dysfunction in health care is related to fragmentation of our system – both in financing and in health care delivery. Efforts are being made to integrate health services to provide an efficient, coordinated flow of health care. These efforts require cooperation between the various sectors of the health care delivery system. Competition is a divisive, destructive, evil force when it occurs within a system that should be joining together in cooperation for the public good.
Private insurers compete. Public administrators cooperate. In health care, we need more cooperation. ‘Nuff said?
National Health Expenditure Projections: Modest Annual Growth Until Coverage Expands And Economic Growth Accelerates
By Sean P. Keehan, Gigi A. Cuckler, Andrea M. Sisko, Andrew J. Madison, Sheila D. Smith, Joseph M. Lizonitz, John A. Poisal and Christian J. Wolfe
Health Affairs, June 2012
$2,809.0 billion – NHE (National Health Expenditures)
$8,952.8 – NHE per capita
17.9% – NHE as percent of GDP
$37.5 billion – Government administration (Note d)
$162.6 billion – Net cost of health insurance (Note e)
d Includes all administrative costs (federal, state, and local employees’ salaries; contracted employees, including fiscal intermediaries; rent and building costs; computer systems and programs; other materials and supplies; and other miscellaneous expenses) associated with insuring individuals enrolled in the following public health insurance programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Service, workers’ compensation, maternal and child health, vocational rehabilitation, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other federal programs.
e Net cost of health insurance is calculated as the difference between calendar year premiums earned and benefits paid for private health insurance. This includes administrative costs and, in some cases, additions to reserves; rate credits and dividends; premium taxes; and plan profits or losses. Also included in this category is the difference between premiums earned and benefits paid for the private health insurance companies that insure the enrollees of the following public programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and workers’ compensation (health portion only).
For 2011 through 2013, the lingering effects of the economic recession and modest recovery, mostly in the form of limited growth in incomes, are expected to continue to constrain health spending growth. In 2014 the coverage expansions laid out in the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid and for private health insurance are expected to increase the growth rate for health spending to 7.4 percent, with notable increases expected in spending on physician services and prescription drugs for newly insured patients. By the end of the projection period, higher income growth and the continuing shift of baby boomers into Medicare are expected to cause health spending to grow roughly two percentage points faster than overall economic growth, which is about the same differential experienced over the past thirty years.
This is the annual report that is used most often as a resource for our health care spending.
The numbers to remember for 2012:
National Health Expenditures: about $2.8 trillion
Health spending per capita: about $9000
Spending as a percent of GDP: about 18%
After the transitions of the next decade, health care spending is expected to continue to grow two percentage points faster than overall economic growth – the same differential experienced over the past thirty years. It makes you wonder when Herbert Stein’s principle will kick in (essentially, if it can’t go on, it won’t).
Since we are seeing an increase in the political rhetoric divided over whether the government or markets should be the dominant force in health care financing, it is worthwhile looking at the total administrative costs of these two approaches to financing health care. Although government spending accounts for about half of all health care spending, we are paying private insurers more than four times as much in administrative costs and profits as we are spending on government administration of health insurance programs.
It is true that the net cost of private health insurance includes the administrative costs of private Medicare Advantage plans and private Medicaid and CHIP managed care plans, but this does not begin to account for the four fold differences in total administrative costs between public and private insurance.
Keep this in mind during the national debate over the Affordable Care Act this political season, which will continue to take place regardless of the Supreme Court decision. One side will argue that we need to encourage free markets of private plans plus private options for Medicare. The other side will argue that we need exchanges to provide choices of private plans, while continuing to offer private Medicare Advantage plans. The one side will talk about private markets while condemning the government, whereas the other side simply will avoid rhetoric referencing the government while touting the virtues of nominal ACA reforms of the private insurers. Both sides are wrong!
We need to get rid of the private insurers and switch to a publicly administered single payer national health program. Besides, then we can address more effectively our health care costs that continue to increase at a rate two percent above the growth in our economy – a rate that is intolerable when compounded year after year.
Paper Cut – Reducing Health Care Administrative Costs
By Elizabeth Wikler, Peter Basch, and David Cutler
Center for American Progress, June 2012
This paper outlines the nature of administrative costs affecting both health care payers and providers, and considers ways to contain these costs. Many such efforts are underway, including the ongoing implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act alongside several different elements of the Affordable Care Act. Continued progress in these areas is thus a central step to lower administrative spending.
Even still, many additional actions will be needed. In the pages that follow, we outline a three-pronged strategy for addressing administrative costs:
* Integration: embedding administrative simplification rules and systems into existing reform efforts
* Coordination: bringing together similar administrative processes by different health care participants to maximize efficiency
* Leadership: creating a new federal office dedicated to simplifying health care administrative plans
Tackling wasteful administrative costs in our health care system in these three ways would result in savings we estimate at $40 billion per year.
These savings are eminently achievable. By integrating new performance standards to promote adoption of electronic transactions such as requiring that electronic health records include utilization metrics for electronic billing and other administrative transactions, we can achieve roughly $26.1 billion in annual savings. By coordinating similar processes by different health care participants—such as physician credentialing and enrollment, quality and safety reporting, and enrollment and retention systems for public programs—we can save $7.7 billion each year. And by ensuring leadership at the federal government level through a new senior-level office dedicated to ensuring that administrative simplification plans are carried through and that innovative results are achieved, we can save potentially much more.
Tackling excessive administrative costs offers a promising opportunity for reducing health care costs while improving the quality of care for all Americans.
About the Center for American Progress
The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.
We develop new policy ideas, critique the policy that stems from conservative values, challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter, and shape the national debate.
Founded in 2003 by John Podesta to provide long-term leadership and support to the progressive movement, CAP is headed by Neera Tanden and based in Washington, D.C.
The Center for American Progress is dedicated to “improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.” Yet they were involved in bringing us the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while working with others to keep single payer off the table. They understand that one of the more important features of single payer is administrative efficiency. Let’s see how they would address that under ACA.
Basically, they have three proposals. They would move administrative functions such as billing into the patients’ electronic medical records; they would coordinate processes such as physician credentialing and patient enrollment through information technology systems, and they would add a new governmental bureaucratic agency to provide oversight of these additional administrative functions.
They contend that this would save about $40 billion annually, though $34 billion of that is already projected through the provisions of ACA and HITECH implementation. They contend that their proposal would add another $6.21 billion to the savings.
Can you imagine the expense of these complex computer systems and the nightmare of trying to coordinate and integrate the various systems amongst aggressive competitors, each of whom would attempt to position themselves in a effort to dominate the market? And obsolescence? That’s built in, both through efforts to perpetuate revenue flows to this industry, and through disruptive innovation designed to capture competitors’ markets. This won’t save costs. Costs will dramatically increase.
And adding another governmental administrative bureaucracy to our dysfunctional system is going to reduce administrative costs? In their effort to continue to suppress single payer they seem to have rejected the obvious concept that they need to REPLACE our current fragmented system of private plans and programs that wastes so much in administration. Instead, they would pile more onto the system.
It’s not as if they didn’t understand. They even cited a paper by David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, well known in the policy community as authors of landmark papers on administrative excesses in health care. But they didn’t include one of the obligatory Woolhandler/Himmelstein papers that showed that the United States could recover hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative waste by switching to a single payer system. Instead, they pushed their own proposal purportedly showing a highly dubious savings of a mere $6 billion, even though it is much more likely that their proposal would increase costs instead.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress has been deeply involved with the current administration in formulating and advocating for the Affordable Care Act. This article seems to be a dishonest vehicle for continuing to dismiss single payer, with the excuse that they are taking care of the administrative inefficiencies, and supposedly saving us money in so doing.
This article coincides with the pending release of the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. It seems to be a preemptive maneuver in anticipation of the imminent surge in demand for a single payer national health program when the decision is announced. They may think that, with this paper as a distraction, they’re ready for us, but we’ve got their number. Let’s lead the surge.
UnitedHealthcare Voluntarily Extends Important Health Reform Protections Regardless of Upcoming Rulings by Supreme Court
June 11, 2012
UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) company, will continue to offer important health care insurance protections that were included in the 2010 health care reform law, no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in cases currently pending before the Court.
UnitedHealthcare will continue provisions related to coverage of preventive health care services, coverage of dependents up to age 26, lifetime policy limits, rescissions and appeals.
“The protections we are voluntarily extending are good for people’s health, promote broader access to quality care and contribute to helping control rising health care costs. These provisions make sense for the people we serve, and it is important to ensure they know these provisions will continue,” said Stephen J. Hemsley, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group. “These provisions are compatible with our mission and continue our operating practices.”
These protections are effective immediately, and will remain available to current and future customers and members. The company is not establishing any sunset provisions.
UnitedHealthcare recognizes the value of coverage for children up to age 19 with pre-existing conditions. One company acting alone cannot take that step, so UnitedHealthcare is committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage.
The specific provisions being extended by UnitedHealthcare are:
Preventive Health Care Services without Co-Pays
Providing Dependent Coverage Up to Age 26
Eliminating Lifetime Limits
No Rescissions, Except for Fraud
Providing Clear and Timely Options for Appeals
You have to hand it to UnitedHealth’s public relations department. No matter how the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this press release establishes UnitedHealth as a leader in patient advocacy, or at least it would seem so.
If ACA is upheld, this press release means nothing since these are already requirements of the Act. If ACA is struck down, these are very popular measures that are quite inexpensive and thus will not drive up premiums to non-competitive levels. The most expensive measure is the coverage of dependents up to age 26, but that adds only about one percent to the premiums. Besides, other insurers will likely follow suit in order to more effectively market to a greater number of young, healthy families. So no matter what happens, UnitedHealth takes credit for taking the lead.
UnitedHealth used one example of a policy that they will not follow, indicating that they will not unilaterally provide patients with some of the more important protections required in ACA. They are correct when they say that they cannot cover children with preexisting conditions unless the entire industry cooperates in distributing those higher cost risks. If one insurer generously accepts those risks, then their costs would skyrocket and they would be forced out of the market by the death spiral of insurance premiums.
UnitedHealth has remained silent on some of the more important requirements not yet in effect that could be overturned by the Supreme Court decision. Insuring preexisting conditions for adults in addition to children, guaranteeing issue of coverage to all individuals regardless of projected costs, and setting premiums based on community rating – driving up premiums for lower-cost, healthier patients – are more significant measures that could impair their competitiveness if they acted unilaterally. We won’t see these policy changes unless ACA is upheld and all insurers are required to comply.
Also they are silent on keeping administrative costs and profits down to a level that complies with the medical loss ratios dictated by ACA. Turn ACA over then there would be no federal requirement to comply, though that would still be the prerogative of the states. States under the political control of anti-government, free-market advocates would likely leave medical loss ratios to the insurers and their Wall Street promoters (where low medical loss ratios – spending less on patients- is a business activity that is rewarded with higher stock valuations).
UnitedHealth’s “generosity” in conceding the very modest positions they listed in their release applies only to the individual and small group markets – a relatively small proportion of their business. Most plans for large employers will be grandfathered, and most of the ACA provisions will not apply – certainly not the requirements specific to the exchanges since large employer plans will not be included in the state exchanges. Also, many large employers are self-insured, and for them UnitedHealth provides only administrative functions, while specific benefits are determined by the employers.
We can’t blame UnitedHealth for trying to protect its market position, but we can blame our elected representatives for adopting policies that perpetuate and expand an industry which must comply with market demands for lower prices – a demand that can be met only by strategic decisions to avoid market segments such as children who are ill.
Is that what America is about? Let’s take care of the kids, even up to age 26, but not the sick ones? What other country does that?
Federal Employees Health Program Experiences Lack Of Competition In Some Areas, Raising Cost Concerns For Exchange Plans
By Timothy D. McBride, Abigail R. Barker, Lisa M. Pollack, Leah M. Kemper and Keith J. Mueller
Health Affairs, June 2012
The Affordable Care Act calls for creation of health insurance exchanges designed to provide private health insurance plan choices. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program is a national model that to some extent resembles the planned exchanges. Both offer plans at the state level but are also overseen by the federal government. We examined the availability of plans and enrollment levels in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program throughout the United States in 2010. We found that although plans were widely available, enrollment was concentrated in plans owned by just a few organizations, typically Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans. Enrollment was more concentrated in rural areas, which may reflect historical patterns of enrollment or lack of provider networks.
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act claim that the the state insurance exchanges would provide a robust market of private plans. One need look only as far as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) – the largest employer-sponsored private health insurance program in the nation – to see that such markets tend to concentrate dominant players. Instead of the magic of market competition, we can anticipate only more pain characteristic of dysfunctional or non-existent markets.
Single payer, anyone?
Comment from QotD reader Joel Segal
I have been on FEHBP plan for the past 12 years, and therefore can credibly speak about the positive and negative aspects of the program.
With the FEHBP plan, I have been able to receive medically necessary care, and the program has covered a good percentage of the costs of my CPAP and bi-pap machines that I use for my severe obstructive sleep apnea. Before I was on the FEHBP plan, I could not receive medically necessary health care services for my sleep apnea and other chronic health conditions. I was forced to become a “health care beggar,” borrowing money from friends, family members, and people of good will just to pay for some of my most serious health care needs. However, despite my charitable friends, for years, I went without the needed care, and remained sick, disabled, and often unable to work a full time job or work at all.
Without the FEHBP plan, I would have become permanently disabled, or developed other serious life-threatening health complications such as heart problems, which often result from untreated sleep apnea. The worst aspect of the FEHBP plan are the steep out-of-pocket costs for hospital visits, doctor’s visits, and other treatment that I need to live a healthy life. Having a chronic illness such as sleep apnea, means high out-of-pocket costs for CPAP masks, sleep studies, and new machines — which are often several hundreds of dollars per year, and sometimes a few thousand dollars per year. My co-pays are often very steep, and there have been many times where providers tried to deny me care that I truly needed, because I could not afford to pay prior balanced billing charges. But, because I demanded that I be treated in their offices (or begged for care!) they let me get the care. Most people are very fearful of their health care providers, and often leave doctor’s offices having been denied medically necessary care due to unpaid bills. This is just a reality of our current for-profit health care system.
I owe approximately $8,000 in co-pays over the last 5 years under the FEHBP, and have paid out-of-pocket approximately $15,000 for medically necessary care over the last 12 years. The problem with the FEHBP plan is that it typically covers 70-80 percent of the bill, leaving the patient who uses the health care system the most with enormous co-pays and medical bills. For young and healthy persons who get sick with the flu or a cold, and see a doctor perhaps twice a year, the program works fine. The people who suffer the most under the FEHBP plan are government employees who have chronic illnesses, or have an emergency surgery or procedure, and must pay the 20 percent of the bill that the plan does not cover.
We need a universal single-payer program like H.R. 676 or H.R. 1200, which will contain rising health care costs, while providing the highest standard of universal health care to all Americans.
Universal Single Payer Advocate
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