Two-thirds of Americans support Medicare-for-all (#3 of 6)

Informative polls show two-thirds support for single-payer
By Kip Sullivan, J

In Part 2 of this six-part series, I reported on the results of two “citizen jury” experiments in which advocates for single-payer, managed competition, and high-deductible policies spoke to, and were questioned by, “juries” that were representative of America. In the case of the 1993 “jury” sponsored by the Jefferson Center, 71 percent voted for single-payer. In the case of the 1996 “jury,” 61 percent voted for single-payer when no specific information about its cost to individuals was presented, and 79 percent voted for a single-payer system that would have lowered premium and out-of-pocket costs by as much as taxes rose. Both juries rejected proposals relying on health insurance companies by huge majorities.

Many polls that ask about support for Medicare-for-all produce results that confirm the citizen jury findings. But others don’t. What explains that inconsistency?

The more they know about single-payer, the more they like it

In this paper (Part 3 in a six-part series) I will present data from polls that ask about single-payer, and then inquire why some polls show landslide majorities for single-payer and some do not. We will find a clear pattern: Polls that convey more information tend to report higher levels of support than polls that convey little information, and polls that convey accurate information tend to report more support than polls that convey inaccurate information.

Table 1 lists 14 poll questions taken from 11 polls conducted over the last two decades which used the phrase “single payer” and/or referred to an existing single-payer system (Medicare, for example). All 14 questions found majority support for single-payer.

Three of these polls (representing one question each) were limited to doctors. I have included these physician surveys to debunk the false impression (created primarily by the American Medical Association) that the average doctor is opposed to single-payer. The three polls shown in Table 1 indicate that support among doctors is about 60 percent.

Table 1 indicates that public support for single-payer ranges from a low of 50 percent to a high of 69 percent. I have divided the polls of the general public into those that found support levels at 60 percent or higher (eight questions) and those that found levels in the 50-to-58 percent range (three questions).

Table 1: Polls indicating majority support for single-payer

……………………………………………………………For single-payer……..Opposed to single-payer

General public: Polls in which support is 60 percent or higher

Harvard University/Harris (1988)(a)……………………61%…………..not asked
LA Times (1990)(b)…………………………………………….66%………….not asked
Wall Street Journal-NBC (1991)(c)……………………….69%…………….20%
Wash Post-ABC News (2003)(d)…………………………..62%………….not asked
Civil Society Institute (2004)(e)……………………………67%……………..27%
AP-Yahoo (2007)(f)……………………………………………..65%…………..not asked
Grove Insight (2009)(g)………………………………………64%……………..28%
Grove Insight (2009)(g)………………………………………60%……………..27%

General public: Polls in which support is below 60 percent

AP-Yahoo (2007)(f)……………………………………………..54%……………….44%
Kaiser Family Foundation (2009)(h)……………………..58%……………….38%
Kaiser Family Foundation (2009)(h)……………………..50%……………….44%


New Eng J Med (medical school faculty and students) (1999)
………………………………………………………………………….57%…………….not asked
Arch Int Med (doctors) (2004)………………………………64%…………….not asked
Minnesota Med (doctors) (2007)……………………………64%…………….not asked

(a) The question asked by the Harvard University/Harris poll was described in the Health Affairs article reporting the results as follows: “The majority of Americans (61 percent) state they would prefer the Canadian system of national health insurance where ‘the government pays most of the cost of health care for everyone out of taxes and the government sets all fees charged by hospitals and doctors….’” An analogous question posed to Canadians found that only 3 percent of Canadians said they would prefer the American system.

(b) The question asked by the Los Angeles Times poll was: “In the Canadian system of national health insurance, the government pays most of the cost of health care out of taxes and the government sets all fees charged by doctors and hospitals. Under the Canadian system – which costs the taxpayers less than the American system – people can choose their own doctors and hospitals. On balance, would you prefer the Canadian system or the system we have here in the United States?” Sixty-six percent chose the Canadian system and 25 percent chose the US system.

(c) The question asked by the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll was: “Do you favor or oppose the US having a universal government-paid health care system like they have in Canada?”

(d) The Washington Post-ABC News poll asked: “Which would you prefer – (the current health insurance system in the United States, in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance); or (a universal health insurance program, in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that’s run by the government and financed by taxpayers?)” Thirty-three percent preferred the current system while 62 percent preferred the “universal system.”

(e) The Civil Society poll asked: “Other major nations, such as Canada and England, guarantee their citizens health insurance on the job, through government programs, or via a nonprofit source. Would it be a good or bad idea for the United States to adopt the same approach to providing health care to everyone?”

(f)The AP-Yahoo poll asked two questions. One asked respondents which of these two proposals they agreed with: (1) “The United States should adopt a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers” (65 percent chose this option); (2) “The United States should continue the current health insurance system in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance” (34 percent chose this option). The second question was: “Do you consider yourself a supporter of a single-payer health care system, that is a national health plan financed by taxpayers in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan, or not?” (54 percent said they were supporters of single-payer and 44 percent said they were opposed).

(g) The Grove Insight poll asked two questions. One asked: “Federal leaders are considering expanding Medicare to all Americans, so that people have another option besides private health insurance or an HMO. Do you favor or oppose the creation of this type of public health plan option?” (64 percent said they favor this proposal). A very similar question was asked which differed from the first by including information on the financing mechanism: “There is proposed federal legislation that gives any American, regardless of age, the option of joining the Medicare program. Americans who choose this option would share the cost of the coverage with their employer through increased Medicare payroll deductions, instead of paying private health insurance premiums. Do you favor or oppose this legislation?” (60 percent favored it and 27 percent opposed it). Both questions, especially the second one, imply private insurers will continue to exist alongside a Medicare program open to all. But the questions are so similar to questions that clearly ask about Medicare-for-all systems that I decided to include them here.

(h) The Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked: “Now I’m going to read you some different ways to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance. As I read each one, please tell me whether you would favor it or oppose it.?” This was followed by eight proposals which, with the exception of the question about the “public option,” were asked in a random order (the “option” question was always asked at the end). Two of these questions asked about single-payer. The first read: “Having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for all.” Fifty-eight percent said they favored this proposal while 38 percent said they opposed. The second read: “Having a national health plan – or single-payer plan – in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan.” Only 50 percent favored this proposal while 44 percent opposed.

For sources see Table 2 below.

If we examine the questions posed by all the polls of the general public, one difference between the two sets of poll questions jumps out immediately: The questions that generated levels of support at 60 percent or higher mentioned one of three existing single-payer programs – the Canadian system, the British system, and the US Medicare program. (I have bolded the words referring to these systems in the poll questions, which are presented in the footnotes to Table 1.) In other words, those questions didn’t just rely on the phrase “single payer,” a phrase most people do not understand.

On the other hand, the three questions that prompted support in the 50-to-58-percent range used the phrase “single-payer” but did not refer to an existing single-payer system or program. The second AP-Yahoo question, for example, merely asked respondents if they considered themselves to be “single-payer supporters.” Fifty-four percent said yes to that question, which was substantially below the 65 percent who indicated in the same AP-Yahoo poll that they supported a system of universal coverage “like Medicare.” These two AP-Yahoo questions taken together suggest that merely using the term “single-payer” and not comparing it to Medicare will cut roughly 10 percentage points off the support level for single-payer.

It might be argued that the second AP-Yahoo question shown in Table 1 produced a relatively low single-payer support rate (54 percent) because it also mentioned the words “taxpayers” and “government.” But that argument doesn’t work. All but one of the other questions that produced support levels of 60-percent or higher also mentioned “government” and “taxes.” The difference is they also mentioned an existing single-payer system or program.

Apples-to-aardvarks comparisons also reduce support for single-payer

The two questions in Table 1 posed by the 2009 Kaiser poll (see question 13, page 8), which showed 58 and 50 percent support for single-payer, reveal another factor that seems to influence poll results – a factor I’ll call the “line-up effect.” The Kaiser poll asked about single-payer as well as a half-dozen other proposals without indicating what effect each proposal would have on costs, the number of uninsured, and freedom to choose one’s doctor, to name just a few of the variables most people would be interested in. By contrast, the polls listed in the 60-percent-or-higher category did not present single-payer in a line-up with other proposals; they simply asked whether respondents would support a single-payer system, or they contrasted single-payer with the current system. The “line-up effect” generated by the Kaiser polls would be minimized or eliminated in a citizen jury experiment because the jury would have plenty of time to inquire about the relative effectiveness of the competing proposals. Respondents to polls don’t have that luxury.

The 2009 Kaiser poll began with this announcement:

Now I’m going to read you some different ways to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance. As I read each one, please tell me whether you would favor it or oppose it.

Notice the phrase, “different ways to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance.” It implies the “different ways” have all been shown by research to work, and perhaps to reach roughly similar results.

This question was then followed by a description of eight proposals, including “expanding Medicare to people between the ages of 55 to 64,” “offering tax credits to help people buy private health insurance,” and “requiring all Americans to have health insurance.”

This “line up” method of asking about support for single-payer is by no means fatal, but it does appear to reduce the pro-single-payer response rate by somewhere in the range of 5 to 10 percentage points. The Kaiser question that produced 58 percent support asked about “having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for all.” Because this question did not mention taxes and government, you might think more than 58 percent of Americans would have said they favored this proposal. After all, when other polls that do not put single-payer in a line-up but do compare single-payer to Medicare and do mention “government” and “taxes” (see the upper half of Table 1), more than 60 percent indicate their support. The fact that only 58 percent of Americans responded favorably to this question from Kaiser – a question that does mention Medicare but mentions neither “taxes” nor “government” – begs for an explanation. It is reasonable to hypothesize that the explanation is the “line up” context in which the question was asked.

The second Kaiser question listed in Table 1, the one that produced only 50 percent support, contained a double whammy. Like the first Kaiser question, it used the line-up method; unlike the first question, it failed to compare single-payer with Medicare or another single-payer system. This suggests that the cumulative effect of the line-up method plus failure to compare single-payer to Medicare can diminish support for single-payer by about 15 percent.

Perhaps an analogy will help. Imagine if you were asked to indicate whether you “favored or opposed” six “ways to lose weight,” and the “ways” (“ways” is the noun Kaiser uses) ranged from the truly effective (for example, exercising for half an hour a day) to the barely effective (for example, weight loss pills or drinking more water). Imagine furthermore that the pollster gave you no information at all on the effectiveness of the various “ways” nor on their side effects. It seems likely that many respondents could be lulled into thinking all the “ways” are roughly equivalent in effectiveness and that respondents would, therefore, give less support to the effective methods of weight loss in response to this type of “line up” question than they would if they were simply asked, “Do you support exercise as a means of weight loss?”

Let me offer one more example of the use of the line-up method in a poll about health care reform, this one the July 2009 poll by Time Magazine. Time posed questions about seven different proposals that began with the phrase, “Would you favor or oppose a health care bill that…?” The implication of the phrase “a health care bill” is that members of Congress and experts in general think all of the proposals the respondent is about to hear will ameliorate the health care crisis to some degree, perhaps to the same degree. The single-payer question read:

Would you favor or oppose a health care bill that creates a national single-payer plan similar to Medicare for all, in which the government would provide health care insurance to all Americans?

Forty-nine percent favored single-payer, 46 percent opposed it. Like all the poll questions shown in Table 1 that showed support for single-payer in the 60-to-70-percent range, the Time question mentioned Medicare and “government.” (Oddly, unlike the high-scoring poll questions in Table 1, the Time question didn’t mention “taxes.”) You might think, then, that the Time poll would have produced a level of support for single-payer in the sixties. The fact that it produced only a 49 percent “favor” rating suggests, again, that something about the “line up” format reduces support for single-payer by about 10 percentage points.

To sum up this section: Polls that ask reasonably informative questions about single-payer show that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of Americans support single-payer. This level of support can be reduced into the 50-to-60 percent range by two methods: Asking about “single-payer” without comparing single-payer to Medicare or the systems of Canada or the UK; and inserting the question about single-payer in a list of a half-dozen other proposals without warning respondents that the non-single-payer proposals, especially incremental proposals like tax credits, will have effects that are quite different from the single-payer proposal.

Two more examples of polls that convey too little information

To explore further the hypothesis that vagueness in poll questions diminishes support for single-payer, consider polls that are even vaguer than the polls in Table 1 that use “single payer” but offer almost no details about it. Let’s examine three polls that did not use the phrase “single payer” and offered no details about how the proposed “government” program would work.

In Part 2 of this series, I described a CBS poll conducted in June and August 2009 which asked:

Do you think the government would do a better or worse job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage?

This question has the ring of a single-payer question, but it leaves numerous important questions unanswered, including whether the program in question would provide coverage to everyone and whether “provide” means cover people directly or give them subsidies so they can buy coverage from insurance companies.

We saw that when this question was asked in June 2009, 50 percent said “the government” would do a better job, but when this question was asked in late August 2009, only 36 percent said “the government” would do a better job. Does this CBS poll contradict the more precise polls listed in Table 1 that found two-thirds support for single-payer?

The answer is no. The CBS poll conveys so little information about how “the government” would do the “job” of “providing medical coverage” that it isn’t even clear if this question was meant to be about single-payer. In the context of the current debate, Americans are much more likely to think the question refers to the Democrats’ 2009 “reform” bills, which require Americans to buy health insurance from insurance companies, than to single-payer legislation. The sharp drop in support for “the government” in the CBS poll between June and August is evidence that the highly publicized town hall meetings held in August to discuss the Democrats’ bills influenced responses to the poll, which in turn indicates many respondents thought the question was about the Democrats’ legislation, not HR 676 (the single-payer bill introduced in the House of Representatives) or S 703 (the Senate single-payer bill).

We see a similar problem in the following question, contained in both a CBS/New York Times poll and a Harvard School of Public Health poll, conducted over several decades:

Do you favor or oppose national health insurance, which would be financed by tax money, paying for most forms of health care?

Like the phrase “government providing medical coverage” in the CBS poll, the phrase “national health insurance” in this poll could mean government financing of universal coverage through a single-payer system or through a multiple-payer system. If you look at Exhibit 1 on page 35 of this article from Health Affairs, you’ll see that between 1980 and 2000 the percent of respondents saying they favor “national health insurance” ranged between 46 and 66 percent. The vagueness of the phrase was unquestionably a significant reason why support fluctuated so much.

Another way to diminish support for single-payer: Convey inaccurate information

In addition to conveying vague information about single-payer there is, of course, another time-tested method of diminishing support for it, and that is to convey inaccurate information about it. This can be done explicitly and implicitly. It can be done explicitly by, for example, asserting in the question that single-payer systems raise taxes but do not lower premium payments and out-of-pocket costs. We have already seen one example of how reducing support for single-payer with inaccurate information can be done implicitly – by inserting the single-payer question into the middle of several other proposals, including incremental proposals such as tax credits for small employers, without warning respondents that the proposals have very different benefits and side effects.

Since 2001, the Gallup poll has been asking this explicitly misleading question (apparently each November):

Which of the following approaches for providing health care in the United States would you prefer: replacing the current health care system with a new government-run health care system, or maintaining the current system based mostly on private health insurance? (emphasis added)

“Government-run health care system” has garnered somewhere between 32 and 41 percent support since 2001 (while keeping the “current system” has attracted the support of 48 to 63 percent). But this poll is so biased it is irrelevant to the current debate. The problem here is the use of the phrase “health care” three times instead of “health insurance.”

The government does not “run health care” under single-payer systems (or any other system currently under debate in the US, for that matter). Under single-payer systems, clinics, hospitals, and makers of drugs and equipment that are privately owned today would remain in private hands. What the government will “run” in a Medicare-for-all system is health insurance, not health care. The latter phrasing conjures up nightmares of a gigantic government HMO in which the federal HMO owns all the clinics and hospitals and government bureaucrats decide whether you may have the surgery you and your doctor think you need or whether you must take Lipitor when your doctor prescribed Crestor.

I will discuss another example of a poll that delivers explicit misinformation in Part 5 when I discuss the “research” Celinda Lake did for the “option” movement.

The Bermuda Triangle

Finally, there is the occasional outlier poll that produces very low favorability ratings for single-payer about which I can only offer a plausible hypothesis. The August 7-8, 2009 Rasmussen Poll (not shown in Table 1) is an example. The poll asked:

Do you favor or oppose a single payer health care system where the federal government provides coverage for everyone?

We would expect this poll to produce “favor” responses below the 60-percent level because it offers so little information about what a single-payer is (it doesn’t mention Medicare or the Canadian or British systems, and offers no other details). But Rasmussen reported that only 32 percent supported single-payer while 57 percent opposed it. This question was not asked as part of a “line up,” so the line-up explanation doesn’t help us here. The two explanations that occur to me are sloppiness and deliberate manipulation of the process (for example, sampling a lot more conservatives than liberals). That possibility has occurred to others as well. Rasmussen’s non-electoral polls seem to show more support for conservative positions than other polls.


We have now reviewed three categories of polls that correspond roughly to support levels of 60 to 70 percent, 50 to 60 percent, and below 50 percent. Polls that produce greater-than-60-percent levels of support for single payer not only use the phrase “single-payer” but compare the concept to an existing single-payer program, typically Medicare. Polls showing 50 to 60 percent support inquire about “single payer” without comparing the concept to Medicare or to the single-payer systems of other countries or they pose the question about single-payer in a line-up context. Polls that seem to ask about single-payer and which show less than 50 percent support use phrasing that is so vague respondents cannot know whether the program being asked about is a single-payer and, if so, how it would work.

We saw in Part 2 of this series that two citizen juries conducted in the 1990s produced landslide votes for single-payer – votes equal to roughly 60 to 80 percent of all the participating “jurors.” These lengthy “jury” experiments are far more reliable than any poll could possibly be. And yet some polls confirm the “jury” experiments and some don’t. If we ask why, the answer is the polls that show support in at least the 60-to-70-percent range use the phrase “single payer” and give respondents concrete examples of single-payer programs.

If we couple the “jury” experiments with the polling data reviewed in this part, we see a pattern: The more people know about single-payer, the more likely they are to support it. We see this pattern when we compare the “jury” results with poll results, and we see it when we compare polls that show high levels of support for single-payer with those that don’t.

Stay tuned for Part 4: “Jacob Hacker’s ambiguous polls”

Table 2: Sources

Harvard/Harris poll: Robert J. Blendon et al., “Views on health care: Public opinion in three nations,” Health Affairs, Spring 1989;8(1)149-157.

Los Angeles Times poll: “Health Care in the United States,” Poll no. 212, Storrs, Conn.: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, March 1990, cited in Robert J. Blendon et al., “Satisfaction with health systems in ten nations,” Health Affairs, Summer 1990;9(2): 185-192. Actual wording of the question is available at American Public Opinion Index, 1990, p. 649.

Wall Street Journal-NBC poll: Michael McQueen, “Voters, sick of the current health –care systems, want federal government to prescribe remedy,” Wall Street Journal, June 28, 1991, A4 (question available here).

New England Journal of Medicine poll: Steven R. Simon et al., “Views of managed care: A survey of students, residents, faculty, and deans of medical schools in the United States,” New England Journal of Medicine 1999; 340:928-936, 929.

Washington Post-ABC News Poll: Health Care, October 20, 2003.
Archives of Internal Medicine poll: Danny McCormick et al., “Single-payer national health insurance: Physicians’ views,” Archives of Internal Medicine 2004;164:300-304.

Civil Society Institute poll: Opinion Research Corporation, Americans and Health Care Reform: How Access and Affordability are Shaping Views, September 15, 2004.

Minnesota Medicine poll: Joel Albers et al, “Single-payer, health savings accounts, or managed care? Minnesota physicians’ perspectives,” Minnesota Medicine, February 2007:36-40.

AP-Yahoo poll: Knowledge Networks, (page 15).
Grove Insight poll: Grove Insight memo to Jamie Court, January 30, 2009.

Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 2009.

Medicare buy-in?

Posted by on Wednesday, Dec 9, 2009

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.

Harry Reid: Democrats reach ‘broad agreement’

By Carrie Budoff Brown & Patrick O’Connor
December 9, 2009

Senate Democrats have reached a “broad agreement” on a health reform bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday night — a plan that would replace the public option in the current Senate bill with a new national insurance plan offered by private insurers, and a chance for older Americans to “buy in” to Medicare.

To win over liberals disappointed at losing the public option, Democrats would allow older Americans starting at age 55 to buy into Medicare, the popular program for the aged. The Medicare expansion would be a significant victory for Democrats, who spent years pushing for it. The proposal would in effect create a public health insurance option for older Americans, since Medicare is government-funded and government-run.

The most efficient, most effective, and least expensive method of providing reasonably comprehensive health care for everyone would be to replace all current public and private financing programs with a single, improved Medicare program that covered absolutely everyone. Some have suggested that we can do this incrementally, with the first step being to allow individuals 55 and over to buy into Medicare. Is this a good idea?

Harvard professor Steffie Woolhandler provides us with some insight: “Lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 55 only works if it is mandatory. Otherwise it becomes the place where all the sickest patients get dumped. That might be okay for the sick people since Medicare is often better and more secure than private coverage, but it would drive total health care costs (and premiums) up, not down.”

The current Medicare risk pool is composed of seniors with a high rate of chronic disease and with the expenses of end-of-life care, plus younger individuals with long-term disabilities. Since this is a very high cost population, the prorated premiums would be unaffordable for most individuals 55 thru 64. A separate risk pool would have to be established that would be limited to this age bracket. Unfortunately, 55 thru 64 is still the most expensive age sector of all individuals under 65 and so premiums would still be unaffordable for most, especially after you add in the impact of adverse selection as Steffie Woolhandler has described.

Suppose that a Medicare buy-in for those over 55 were to be established, and that higher government subsidies were provided to cover the higher costs, then what do you have? You have created a public option. Yet the reason being given for the Medicare buy-in is that it is a trade-off to get the progressives to agree to abandoning the public option.

So the agreement seems to be to eliminate the public option from consideration by establishing a public option. But is the proposal a public option that would allow everyone the opportunity to buy into Medicare? Apparently not. After all, this is Congress at work.

Although details have not been released, it appears that this Medicare buy-in would be limited by the same rules already proposed for the public option. Individuals who already are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid would not be eligible to participate in the insurance exchange, yet the Medicare buy-in would not be available outside of the exchange (except perhaps during a transition before the exchange is established). Thus the net effect of this buy-in is to further limit the public option only to those 55 and over who meet all other qualifications for the exchange – a ratcheted-down version of the public option.

An elective buy-in for Medicare will only add to the perpetuation of inequities, fragmentation, administrative inefficiencies, inadequate fiscal supervision and other deficiencies that plague our health care financing system. Adding to our dysfunctional system only compounds the dysfunction. We need to replace the system with an efficient single payer model.

Could we do that in incremental steps by first moving absolutely everyone over 55 into our existing Medicare program? Yes, but why would we do that? There would be complex transitional issues in changing this sector from a revenue source for Medicare into both a revenue source and an expense as they become beneficiaries of the program. Another increment could be MediKids for all children, though that would involve other transitional issues. Then how soon would we phase in everyone else, with yet still more transitional issues?

Incremental steps increase the complexities and costs of the transition while delaying access for many who already have impaired access and financial burdens caused by our dysfunctional system.

A single, disruptive transition would actually be more efficient administratively, while lowering transitional costs. Much more important, a single transition would ensure that no person would have to wait any longer to access the care that he or she needs merely because of an inability to pay for that care.

If we advocate for less than we need, we’ll end up with cheap chits that will eventually be traded away, and then what are we left with?

$126,000 drug that only makes the desperate sick

Posted by on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009

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.

Questioning a $30,000-a-Month Cancer Drug

By Andrew Pollack
The New York Times
December 4, 2009

A newly approved chemotherapy drug will cost about $30,000 a month, a sign that the prices of cancer medicines are continuing to rise despite growing concern about health care costs.

Critics, including many oncologists, say that patients and the health system cannot afford to pay huge prices for drugs that, on average, provide only a few extra months of life at best.

And Folotyn (made by Allos Therapeutics) has not even been shown to prolong lives — only to shrink tumors. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late September as a treatment for peripheral T-cell lymphoma, a rare and usually aggressive blood cancer that strikes an estimated 5,600 Americans each year.

(James V. Caruso, the chief commercial officer for Allos) said the price of Folotyn was not out of line with that of other drugs for rare cancers. Patients, moreover, are likely to use the drug for only a couple of months because the tumor worsens so quickly, he said.

In a note to clients in October, Joshua Schimmer, an analyst at Leerink Swann, estimated that a typical treatment would last 3.5 months and cost $126,000, or about $36,000 a month.


Prescribing Information for Folotyn (pralatrexate injection)

Allos Therapeutics, Inc.
Issued: September 2009

Indications and Usage:

Folotyn is indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL). This indication is based on overall response rate. Clinical benefit such as improvement in progression free survival or overall survival has not been demonstrated.

Adverse reactions (list includes only those events occurring in 10 percent or more of patients treated):

Pharyngolaryngeal pain
Liver function test abnormal
Abdominal pain
Pain in extremity
Back pain
Night sweats
Upper respiratory tract infection

Percent of patients experiencing any adverse event: 100 percent

Forty-four percent of patients (n = 49) experienced a serious adverse event while on study or within 30 days after their last dose of Folotyn.


Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Amendment in Senate)

The Library of Congress, THOMAS

Title VII – Improving access to innovative medical therapies
Sec. 7002, (a), (2), (k)
(7) Exclusivity for reference product
(A) Effective date of biosimilar application approval – Approval of an application under this subsection may not be made effective by the Secretary until the date that is 12 years after the date on which the reference product was first licensed under subsection (a).

Fotolyn is a new miracle drug brought to us by our highly revered pharmaceutical industry. This new drug has no demonstrated clinical benefit, though all patients have adverse reactions, almost half of them serious – including death.

In an astonishing moment of candor, James Caruso, chief commercial officer for Allos, provided reassurance that the very high monthly cost of Fotolyn would not be protracted since the tumor worsens so quickly.

What makes this drug a miracle only the investment community can understand. Desperate patients will spend an average of $126,000 for this worthless drug. On Wall Street that’s a miracle, but within the health policy community, that’s a tragedy.

You can be assured that, in crafting health care reform, Congress has responded to the very high prices of newer patented therapeutic agents, but in a perverse way. Recognizing the great potential of genetically-engineered biologics, Congress has included in the legislation an unprecedented 12 year exclusivity, protecting the firms from competition of biosimilar products.

Maybe the biotech firms will be able to parley this into seven-figure treatment programs for the desperately ill. The soak-the-sick policies may not work for patients, but they certainly work well for Wall Street. And doesn’t that seem to be where Congress’s loyalties lie these days?

News from Indianapolis, IN

Posted by on Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009

On December 3, Dr. Chris Stack joined a group of over 30 health care activists to protest at the office of Sen. Evan Bayh. The group spoke with Sen. Bayh’s regional director, Andrew Hogan, who promised to pass along the group’s demands to the senator. Dr. Stack is a retired orthopedic surgeon who has been an active member of PNHP since 2003.

Two-thirds of Americans support Medicare-for-all (#2 of 6)

Citizen juries demonstrate massive support for single-payer
By Kip Sullivan, JD

“They contradicted both beltway and public opinion polls. The whole damn world seems to think the Clinton plan is the way to go. Yet they like the single-payer system, which isn’t even getting considered in Washington.”

That was how the president of the Jefferson Center characterized the outcome of a five-day “citizen jury” experiment in which 24 “jurors” listened to and questioned 30 experts on health care reform. (Patrick Howe, “‘Citizens jury’ supports Wellstone’s health care proposal over Clinton plan,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 15, 1993, 10A.) Of those 30 experts, only one, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), spoke in favor of single-payer. (Gail Shearer of Consumers Union, which had endorsed single-payer by 1993, was one of the 30 experts to speak to the jury, but it is not clear from the Jefferson Center record that she spoke in favor of single-payer.)

The jury heard expert testimony for and against all three of the major types of health care reform legislation that have been promoted in the US over the last four decades. Senator Wellstone presented the case for his single-payer bill, numerous speakers made the case for Bill Clinton’s managed competition bill (a bill based on competition between insurance companies that use managed-care cost-control techniques), and numerous speakers made the case for what later came to be called “consumer-driven” health insurance policies (competition between insurance companies that sell policies with deductibles on the order of $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families).

The jury voted by massive majorities to reject the market-based proposals – managed competition and high-deductible policies – and, by a landslide majority (17 out of 24, or 71 percent), to endorse Wellstone’s single-payer bill. At the time the Jefferson Center report noted only that a majority of jurors voted for single-payer. The actual vote count was reported years later by Barry Casper in his book, Lost in Washington: Finding the Way Back to Democracy in America.

The unbearable lightness of polls

Observers were surprised at the jury’s rejection of the Clinton plan because polls taken at the time the Jefferson Center jury was meeting (the second week of October 1993) were reporting that a majority of the public supported Clinton’s Health Security Act, his “managed competition within a budget” bill that was supposed to create a system of universal health insurance. For example, a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll (see Exhibit 1 page 10) released on September 24, 1993 showed 59 percent endorsed Clinton’s bill. But just three weeks later, on October 14, 1993, the jury rejected Clinton’s bill by a vote of 19 to 5. Five jurors out of 24 comes to 21 percent, far below the 60-percent level one would have expected based on polls.

The enormous gap between the citizens jury’s vote on Clinton’s bill and contemporary poll results illustrates a well known problem with polls: Although they can produce consistent and accurate results when the question is about something the respondents are familiar with, such as whether they have health insurance, they can produce wildly divergent and inaccurate results when the question is about a complex issue that respondents have had little time to study or even to think about.

Contrast, for example, a 2007 AP-Yahoo poll, which found 65 percent of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system, with a 2009 CBS poll which found only 50 percent think “government” would do a “better job” of providing health insurance than the insurance industry. The AP-Yahoo poll posed this question (the order of the two solutions was reversed from one respondent to the next):

Which comes closest to your view?

The United States should continue the current health insurance system in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance;

The United States should adopt a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers.

Sixty-five percent of respondents chose the second solution – the Medicare-for-all solution – while only 34 percent chose the current system.

Now consider the June 12-16, 2009 CBS poll which asked: “Do you think the government would do a better or worse job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage?” Fifty percent said “the government” would do a better job versus 34 percent who said “the government” would do a worse job.

Now, just to raise your skepticism about polls another notch, consider this wrinkle. When CBS asked the same question two months later – during August 27-31, 2009 – they found 13 to 14 percent of respondents had changed their minds in favor of the insurance industry. That is, by late August (by which time dozens of tumultuous “town hall” meetings about the Democrats’ health care “reform” legislation had taken place), the percent who thought “the government” would do a better job had fallen to 36 (from 50 percent) while the percent who thought “the government” would do a worse job had risen to 47 (from 34 percent).

How do we make sense of these seemingly contradictory results? Do we trust the late-August CBS poll and say only one-third of Americans support single-payer? Or do we go with the AP-Yahoo poll and say two-thirds support single-payer? Or do we split the difference and say the June CBS poll got it about right – that half of Americans support single-payer?

Fortunately, we are not reduced to rolling dice or drawing straws. We can examine research that uses methods more reliable than those used by the typical poll, notably two citizen jury experiments. And we can examine polls that have produced contradictory results to see if we can find a reason why. I will use the remainder of this paper to report on the two citizen juries. I’ll examine polling data more closely in Part III of this series.

The Jefferson Center’s methodology

The Jefferson Center, a non-profit organization created in 1974 by Ned Crosby, invented the “citizen jury” label and developed the rules for them that are now used around the world, especially in the United Kingdom. These methods include: random selection of jurors; selection of experts and moderation of the discussion in a manner that minimizes bias; recording of the proceedings; a report from the jury indicating votes taken on major issues presented to it and recommendations from the jury; questionnaires for jurors after the jury has completed its work to inquire about their perception of the fairness of the process; and oversight and review by a steering committee to minimize bias.

The 24 jurors who gathered in a Washington, DC hotel on Sunday, October 10, 1993 were randomly selected from a pool of 2000. They included a 23-year-old college student from Colorado, a 27-year-old carpenter from Wisconsin, a 32-year-old janitor from Minnesota, a 44-year-old village clerk from New York, a 46-year-old banker from Indiana, a 51-year-old antique dealer from California, a 59-year-old retired nurse from Louisiana, and a 75-year-old retired insurance agent from Florida. Ten had voted for Clinton in the 1992 election, nine for George H.W. Bush, and five for Ross Perot. Three had no health insurance.

The experts who addressed the jury included three sitting US Senators, two former members of the House of Representatives, and 25 other experts including Gail Wilensky (who was the director of Medicare under the first President Bush and is a member of numerous corporate boards), Ira Magaziner (who directed Hillary Clinton’s health care reform task force), and Ron Pollack (director of Families USA). The discussion was moderated by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Former CBS and NBC TV anchor Roger Mudd was on hand to film a documentary which aired in April 1994.

After five days of listening to and cross-examining the 30 experts (the jury asked the experts more than 500 questions), the jurors refused even to vote on the “managed competition lite” proposal presented by Senator Dave Durenberger (R-MN) and a high-deductible (Medical Savings Account) proposal presented by Senator Don Nickles (R-OK). In other words, the jury rejected the Durenberger and Nickle’s legislation by a vote of 24 to zero. They rejected Clinton’s Health Security Act by a vote of 19 to 5. When they were asked how many supported Sen. Wellstone’s single-payer bill (S. 491), 17 of 24 (71 percent) raised their hands.

Washington Post columnist William Raspberry wrote at the time:

Perhaps most interesting about last week’s verdict is its defiance of inside-the-Beltway wisdom that says a single-payer … plan can’t be passed. These jurors think it can – and ought to be. (William Raspberry, “Citizens jury won over by merits of Wellstone’s single-payer plan,” Washington Post, October 21, 1993, 23A)

I have already noted one reason why observers were surprised by the jury’s votes, namely, polls taken around the time the jury met indicated a majority of the public liked Clinton’s bill. But there was another reason to be surprised: The Jefferson Center created a playing field that was steeply tilted against Wellstone’s single-payer bill.

To begin with, the Center limited the jury to two questions: “Do we need health care reform in America?” and, “Is the Clinton plan the way to get the health care reform we need?” Second, the agenda called for presentations by a team of Republicans and their expert witnesses arguing for Republican proposals, and a team of Democrats and their expert witnesses arguing for Clinton’s Health Security Act. (The Republican team was managed and represented by former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber; the Democrats were led by Hill and Knowlton lobbyist and former Connecticut Congressman Toby Moffett.) There was no team advocating for single-payer. There was only Wellstone.

But the jury was so attracted to Wellstone’s description of his bill during his initial presentation that they voted 22-0 to invite him back for two more question periods (see page 10 of the Jefferson Center report). No other witness was asked back even once. “In fact,” noted columnist Raspberry, “when the Minnesotan [Wellstone] dropped in at the jury’s farewell dinner Thursday night, he got a standing ovation.”

To sum up: The Jefferson Center’s citizen jury methodology was far more rigorous than any two- or three-sentence poll can be, and yet even the methods used for that jury permitted substantial bias against the single-payer approach. A total of 30 experts spoke to the Jefferson Center jury over five days. Only one of them, Senator Wellstone, made the case for single-payer. Even though the question of whether to support or oppose single-payer was not on the agenda, the jury took the initiative to get more information about it. The jury did not have to do that for any other proposal. Despite these obstacles, the single-payer proposal won by a 71-percent majority.

Minnesota citizen jury endorses single-payer by 79 percent

On October 1, 1996 I was part of another citizen jury project sponsored by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Twin Cities Public TV which used a methodology similar to the Jefferson Center’s jury and which had a nearly identical outcome. In this case, the jury consisted of 14 randomly selected Minnesotans, only three experts spoke, and the entire event lasted just four hours. I made the case for single-payer (at that time I represented Minnesota Citizens Organized Acting Together), Michael Scandrett (then the director of the Minnesota Council of HMOs) stated the case for managed competition, and a woman who had just left a job with the Minnesota Department of Health to create her own advocacy group for Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs, now referred to as Health Savings Accounts) presented the argument for MSAs.

At the end of four hours, the moderator for the evening (an officer of the Minnesota League of Women Voters) put several questions to the jury for a vote. Her first question asked each juror which proposal they supported. Eight voted for single-payer, three voted for managed competition, one woman split her vote between single-payer and managed competition (she said she wanted the two proposals to be married somehow), no one voted for MSAs, and two of the 14 abstained. If we allocate a half of the vote by the woman who wanted some combination of managed competition and single-payer to each proposal, single-payer’s total was 8.5, or 61 percent of the 14 jurors.

The moderator’s second question asked whether the jurors would support universal coverage under a single-payer system if citizens had to pay $1,000 more in taxes that were offset by $1,000 in reduced premiums and out-of-pocket costs. (This is a conservative estimate of what would happen. It is likely that aggregate premium and out-of-pocket costs would decline more than aggregate taxes would go up under a single-payer system, and very likely that premium and out-of-pocket costs would decline substantially more than taxes would go up for lower- and middle-income Americans.) Eleven said yes to this question, and three abstained. If we treat this latter vote as the definitive vote for single-payer, then it would be accurate to say 79 percent voted for single payer. Finally, the moderator asked if the jury thought Congress had failed to give single-payer a fair hearing. Again, 11 (79 percent) said yes and three said no. (Glenn Howatt, “Canadian-style care starting to look more attractive to panelists,” Minneapolis Star Tribune October 9, 1996, A15)

Stay tuned for Part 3: “Informative polls show two-thirds support for single-payer.”

250,000 FEHBP-eligible federal employees uninsured

Posted by on Monday, Dec 7, 2009

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 health care bills compare to lawmakers’ plan

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
The Washington Post
December 6, 2009

You should get the same health insurance deal that members of Congress get. That was the gist of President Barack Obama’s message as he tried to drum up enthusiasm for his health care overhaul.

Government workers and members of Congress belong to the nation’s largest employer-sponsored health plan, covering 8 million employees, dependents and retirees.

“We estimate there are about 250,000 federal employees who are uninsured. They’re eligible, but they can’t afford the premiums,” said Jacqueline Simon, policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees.


New Government-Run Health Proposal Eyed

Democrats, in Search of Compromise, Explore Federal Employee Plan as a Model

By Greg Hitt And Janet Adamy
The Wall Street Journal
December 7, 2009

Democrats on both sides of the issue who were assigned by Sen. Reid to find a compromise were nearing agreement on an alternative that would empower the government’s Office of Personnel Management to run a new national health plan, congressional aides said. The office already oversees the federal employee health plan, and administration officials have pointed to it as an example of how the government can successfully run a health-insurance program.

Under the proposal, the office would negotiate terms of the plan with private insurers, and contract with nonprofit entities set up by the private sector to run the program, aides said.


Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)

AmericanFederation of Government Employees
February 9, 2009

FEHBP has both structural and political flaws.

Those who must rely upon FEHBP for health insurance know its flaws well, and consider it anything but a model.

An estimated quarter of a million federal workers and their families are uninsured because FEHBP premiums are unaffordable to them on their modest federal salaries. The continued cost-shifting only increases the ranks of uninsured and underinsured Americans.

Why shouldn’t we all have the same insurance that members of Congress have? They and all other federal employees are covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), an exchange of private health plans from which they can choose their coverage.

The FEHBP plans share many of the problems found in private health plans marketed to non-government employers. Simply the fact that a quarter million federal workers and their families remain uninsured, though eligible for FEHBP, demonstrates that it is a flawed program that should be rejected as a model for reform.

For those who say that subsidies would make the difference, these federal employees have already been offered subsidies in the form of the federal employer contribution to their premiums, yet they still can’t afford their share of the premium. Besides, because insurance is available through their employment, they would not be eligible for the subsidized exchange plans anyway.

So what is Congress doing? Because of the political impasse over a public plan to be offered as an option to private plans within the insurance exchange, senators are currently advocating for the compromise of a separate exchange of private plans modeled on FEHBP. This model allegedly would satisfy the moderates opposed to the public option because it would be limited to private, non-profit insurers, and allegedly would satisfy the progressives because they could claim that it’s like the government insurance that members of Congress have. Of course there’s nothing government about it.

What is more ridiculous is the structure of this phony public option. It would establish an exchange of private insurance plans within an exchange of private insurance plans with a market of private insurance plans outside of the exchanges. What insurer is going to compete against its successful plans on the open market by offering competing plans in the insurance exchange and then competing with its plans in the exchange by offering plans in the exchange within the exchange?

Besides, how many truly dominant insurers are there? They constitute an oligopoly. Just as they play by their own market rules now, they will continue to do so even if modified by guaranteed issue or whatever.

Ask those 250,000 uninsured federal workers who were promised the coverage that members of Congress have what they think about FEHBP. Then ask them if they would like to have Medicare paid for by equitable taxes they can afford rather than by premiums they can’t afford. Then ask them to march on Congress!

Two-thirds of Americans support Medicare-for-all (#1 of 6)

Introduction to a Six-part Series
By Kip Sullivan, JD

“Americans are scared to death of single payer.”

These words were not uttered by some foaming-at-the mouth wingnut. They were written by Bernie Horn, a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a member of Health Care for America Now, on June 8, 2009. Horn explained that he was moved to write this tripe because single-payer supporters were asking why Democrats had taken single-payer off the table to make room for the “public option”:

The question most frequently asked by progressive activists at last week’s America’s Future Now conference was this: We hear Obama and congressional Democrats talking about a public health insurance option, but why aren’t they talking about a single-payer system like HR 676 sponsored by Rep. John Conyers? Why is single-payer “off the table”?

Horn went on to assert that single-payer had been taken off the table because Americans want it off the table. He claimed polling data supported him, but he cited no particular poll. The truth is that the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) and other groups in Health Care for America Now (HCAN) had decided years earlier they would push Democratic candidates and officeholders to substitute the “option” for single-payer, and they would tell both Democrats and progressive activists that Americans “like the insurance they have” and that Americans oppose single-payer.

The argument that single-payer is “politically infeasible” is not new. That argument is as old as the modern single-payer movement (which emerged in the late 1980s). It is an argument made exclusively by Democrats who don’t want to support single-payer legislation – a group Merton Bernstein and Ted Marmor have called “yes buts.”

The traditional version of the “yes but” excuse has been that the insurance industry is too powerful to beat or, more simply, that “there just aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for single-payer.” But the leaders of the “option” movement felt they needed a more persuasive version of the traditional “yes but” excuse. The version they invented was much more insidious. They decided to say that American “values,” not American insurance companies, are the major impediment to single-payer.

How did the “option” movement’s leaders know that Americans oppose single-payer? According to Jacob Hacker, the intellectual leader of the “option” movement, they knew it because existing polling data said so. According to people like Bernie Horn and Roger Hickey at CAF, they knew it because focus group “research” and a poll conducted by pollster Celinda Lake on behalf of the “option” movement said so.

About this series

This six-part series explores the research on American attitudes about a single-payer (or Medicare-for-all) system to evaluate the truth of the new version of the “yes but” argument. We will see that the research demonstrates that approximately two-thirds of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system despite constant attacks on Medicare and the systems of other countries by conservatives. The evidence supporting this statement is rock solid. The evidence against it – the focus group and polling “research” commissioned by the “option” movement’s founders – is defective, misinterpreted, or both.

In Part II of this series, I will describe two experiments with “citizen juries” which found that 60 to 80 percent of Americans support a Medicare-for-all or single-payer system. The citizen jury research is the most rigorous research available on the question of what Americans think about single-payer and other proposals to solve the health care crisis. It is the most rigorous because it exposes randomly selected Americans to a lengthy debate between proponents of single-payer and other proposals.

Of the two “juries” I report on, the one sponsored by the Jefferson Center in Washington DC in 1993 remains the most rigorous test of public support for single-payer legislation ever conducted. After taking testimony from 30 experts over the course of five days, a “jury” of 24 Americans, selected to be representative of the entire population, soundly rejected all proposals that relied on competition between insurance companies (including President Bill Clinton’s “managed competition” bill) and endorsed Sen. Paul Wellstone’s single-payer bill. These votes were by landslide majorities. Washington Post columnist William Raspberry accurately noted, “Perhaps most interesting about last week’s verdict is its defiance of inside-the-Beltway wisdom that says a single-payer … plan can’t be passed” (“Citizens jury won over by merits of Wellstone’s single-payer plan,” Washington Post October 21, 1993, 23A).

In Part III, I’ll review polling data and explore the question, Why do some polls confirm the citizen jury research while other polls do not? We will discover an interesting pattern: The more poll respondents know about single-payer, the more they like it. We will see that polls that claim to find low support for single-payer provide little information about what a single-payer is (they fail to refer to Medicare or to another example of a single-payer system), they provide misleading information, or both. For example, when Americans are asked if they would support “a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers,” two-thirds say they would, but when they are asked, “Do you think the government would do a better or worse job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage?” fewer than half say “government” would do a “better job.” Although neither question provided anywhere near as much information as the citizen jury experiments did, it is obvious the former question was more informative than the latter.

In Parts IV and V, I’ll discuss the evidence that “option” advocates cite for their claim that single-payer is opposed by most Americans. Part IV will examine polling data that Jacob Hacker uses to justify his refusal to support single-payer and his decision to promote the notion of “public-private-plan choice.” Part V will examine the survey and focus group “research” done by Celinda Lake for the Herndon Alliance and subsequently cited by leaders of HCAN, the two groups most responsible for bringing the “public option” into the current health care reform debate.

We will see that Hacker’s research relies on polls that pose such vague questions that the results resemble a Rorschach blot more than a guide to health care reform strategy. Would you make a decision about whether to abandon single-payer based on a poll that asked respondents to choose between these two statements: (1) “[I]t is the responsibility of the government in Washington to see to it that people have help in paying for doctors and hospital bills… ;” and (2) “these matters are not the responsibility of the federal government and … people should take care of these things themselves”? I wouldn’t, but Hacker did. If it turned out that about 50 percent of the respondents said it was the federal government’s responsibility, 20 percent said it was the individual’s responsibility, and the other 30 percent split their vote between government and individual responsibility, would you read those results to mean Americans “are stubbornly attached to employment-based health insurance”? I certainly wouldn’t, but Hacker did. Would you use this poll as evidence that “American values [are] barriers to universal health insurance”? I wouldn’t, but Hacker did.

The “research” that Celinda Lake did for the Herndon Alliance used strange methods. For example, she selected her focus groups based on their answers to questions about “values” that had nothing to do with health care reform. The values included “brand apathy,” “upscale consumerism,” “meaningful moments,” “mysterious forces,” and “sexual permissiveness.” “Meaningful moments,” for example, was described as, “The sense of impermanence that accompanies momentary connections with others does not diminish the value of the moment.” Do you think it’s important to ask Americans about their “sense of impermanence” before deciding whether you will support single-payer legislation? I don’t, but Celinda Lake and the Herndon Alliance did.

The “option” movement’s “research” turns out to be no match for the more rigorous research which demonstrates two-thirds of Americans support Medicare-for-all.

In Part VI I discuss the wisdom of allowing polls and focus group research to dictate policy and strategy, something the “option” movement’s founders talked themselves into doing. Hacker has been especially vocal about this. He repeatedly urges his followers to think “politics, politics, politics,” a squishy mantra that, in practice, translates into an exaltation of opportunism. The failure of Hacker and HCAN to object to the shrinkage of the “public option” by congressional Democrats, from a program covering half the population to one that might insure 1 or 2 percent of the population, documents that statement.

The fact that two-thirds of the American public supports single-payer does not mean the enactment of a single-payer system will be easy. It won’t be. But it does mean the new “yes but” justification for opposing single-payer, or indefinitely postponing active support for single-payer, is false and should be rejected.

Stay tuned.

Do the insurance industry reports totally lack all credibility?

Posted by on Friday, Dec 4, 2009

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.

Good News on Premiums

The New York Times
December 3, 2009

The health insurance industry frightened Americans — and gave Republicans a shrill talking point — when it declared in October that proposed reform legislation would drive up insurance costs for virtually everyone by as much as thousands of dollars a year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office persuasively contradicted that claim this week.

Undaunted, the industry issued a rebuttal report, claiming again that premiums would soar. We find this second industry report no more persuasive than the first.

The insurance industry is not giving up. On Thursday, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association issued a report contending that the C.B.O. underestimated the expected medical costs of people who will be buying policies on the individual (nongroup) market.

(CBO notes that) the legal mandate to obtain coverage, the penalties for noncompliance, and the generous subsidies for low- and middle-income people would encourage most people to enroll without waiting to become sick.


Coming Attractions: Insurance Industry Funded Study is Wrong on the Facts… Again…

Posted by Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director
The White House
The White House Blog
December 3, 2009

Later today, the insurance industry releases their latest in a string of flawed analyses designed to confuse the debate around health reform.

In addition to ignoring Congress’s independent budget experts, the new report reaches its conclusions by cherry-picking which policies to analyze – a tactic we’ve seen the industry use repeatedly. Most egregiously, its alarmist headline conclusions leave out the impact that new tax credits will have on the cost of health insurance for families. That makes no sense. In reality, the report itself acknowledges that: “[s]ubsidies will entirely or partially offset these premium increases for some individuals.”


Impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Costs in the Individual and Small-Employer Health Insurance Markets

By Jason Grau and Kurt Giesa
BlueCross BlueShield Association
Oliver Wyman
December 3, 2009

Impact of Subsidies

Subsidies would play an important role in reducing out-of-pocket costs for certain individuals, especially those below 200% of FPL, who are likely to purchase insurance under the proposed reforms. Subsidies will cover more than 90% of premium costs for individuals in this income range, significantly reducing financial barriers to purchasing coverage.

By contrast, our analysis of the Senate bill projects that 8.7 million will not be eligible for the subsidies. Another 3.3 million people who purchase coverage will have incomes of 300-400% FPL and will be eligible for average subsidies of 45% of their premiums (which would not fully offset the cost increases we predict). Finally, 13.3 million lower-income individuals who purchase coverage will have incomes of 100-300% FPL. They will have access to subsidies of 70-90% of their premiums, which will offset much if not all of the increased premiums they will face.

Our modeling predicts that those who are eligible for subsidies will be more likely to purchase insurance than those who are not. However, subsidies will not ensure that young and healthy people participate. Short of achieving 100% coverage, adverse selection will always exist, and the young and healthy will be the most difficult to bring into the market.

Impact of Weak Individual Mandates

The Senate bill requires individuals to purchase insurance coverage or face financial penalties. An amendment accepted during mark-up of the Chairman’s Mark in the Finance Committee, and largely retained in the Senate leadership bill, substantially weakened the bill’s individual mandate. The individual mandate penalty in PPACA is set at just $95 in the first year insurance reforms become effective (2014). This penalty rises gradually, reaching a maximum of $750 per adult in 2016. This maximum penalty is likely to be only about 16 percent of an average premium in 2016, assuming current rates of medical cost inflation.

The amendment also exempts individuals whose premiums exceed 8% of their adjusted gross income (AGI). In 33 states, the average cost of health insurance exceeds eight percent of median state income. In fact, in the first year of reform 25% of the exchange-eligible population will face insurance costs in excess of the 8% AGI threshold and qualify for mandate exemption. Premium increases over a ten-year period will result in nearly half of the population qualifying for mandate exemption status.

Conclusion (excerpt)

The provision of subsidies alone will not offset the impact of insurance reforms on average premiums in the market. A balanced, sustainable insurance pool, that ensures everyone is covered, is critical to making healthcare affordable for all.

Full report:

Recent reports from the insurance industry, including this report from the BlueCross BlueShield Association, have been targeted by proponents of the current leading reform model as biased reports without credibility – witness the comments by The White House and The New York Times (both also biased). But the fundamental message from the insurance industry is very valid: the reform proposal before Congress does not do nearly enough to control health care costs, and the mandates, subsidies and penalties are inadequate to ensure that all risks are adequately pooled.

This report confirms once again that the subsidies are inadequate, particularly for middle-income families, and likely will result in adverse selection as the healthier take their chances on remaining uninsured. It confirms that the penalty for being uninsured is too small to ensure compliance with the insurance requirement. It also confirms that a very large and rapidly growing number of individuals will be exempt from the mandate to purchase insurance simply because their incomes are inadequate to be able to afford the plans.

There is one statement in this report that the proponents of the proposal before Congress should take careful note of, and it is remarkable that it is coming from the insurance industry: “A balanced, sustainable insurance pool, that ensures everyone is covered, is critical to making health care affordable for all.”

The dysfunctional, fragmented model of health care financing that Congress is moving forward with can never create a balanced, sustainable risk pool, nor can it ensure that everyone is covered, nor can it make health care affordable for all.

We really do need a balanced, sustainable pool that includes everyone and is equitably financed: an improved Medicare for all.

CRS on the health insurance market

Posted by on Thursday, Dec 3, 2009

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 Market Structure of the Health Insurance Industry

By D. Andrew Austin and Thomas L. Hungerford
Congressional Research Service
November 17, 2009

Evidence suggests that health insurance markets are highly concentrated in many local areas. Many large firms that offer health insurance benefits to their employees have self-insured, which may put some competitive pressure on insurers, although this is unlikely to improve market conditions for other consumers. The exercise of market power by firms in concentrated markets generally leads to higher prices and reduced output — high premiums and limited access to health insurance — combined with high profits. Many other characteristics of the health insurance markets, however, also contribute to rising costs and limited access to affordable health insurance. Rising health care costs, in particular, play a key role in rising health insurance costs.

Health costs appear to have increased over time in large part because of complex interactions among health insurance, health care providers, employers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, tax policy, and the medical technology industry. Reducing the growth trajectory of health care costs may require policies that affect these interactions. Policies focused only on health insurance sector reform may yield some results, but are unlikely to solve larger cost growth and limited access problems.

About the Congressional Research Service:

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has an outstanding reputation for authoritative, objective and nonpartisan analyses, providing Congress with the analytical support it needs to address the most complex public policy issues facing the nation.

In this 65 page report to Congress on the market structure of the health insurance industry, CRS concludes that “policies focused only on health insurance sector reform may yield some results, but are unlikely to solve larger cost growth and limited access problems.”

The conclusions are certainly no surprise. Every reasonable economist agrees that free market principles do not apply to health care. Yet where is Congress on this? They are moving forward with a proposal that relies heavily on the market of private health plans.

Don’t the members of Congress read their own reports? They need to read this one!

MedPAC on variation in service use

Posted by on Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009

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.

Report to the Congress: Measuring Regional Variation in Service Use

MedPAC (Medicare Payment Advisory Commission)
December 2009

In this paper, we present data on the difference between regional variation in Medicare spending and regional variation in the use of Medicare-covered services. Regional variation in Medicare spending per beneficiary reflects many factors, including differences in beneficiaries’ health status, Medicare payment rates, service volume (number of services), and service intensity (e.g., MRI versus simple X-ray). In contrast, regional variation in the use of Medicare services reflects only differences in the volume and intensity of services that beneficiaries with comparable health status receive.

… raw per capita spending is 55 percent higher for beneficiaries in the area at the 90th percentile than for beneficiaries in the area at the 10th percentile.

Service use in higher use areas (90th percentile) is about 30 percent greater than in lower use areas (10th percentile).

… the correlation between rate of growth in adjusted spending from 2000 to 2006 and the level of service use in an MSA is slightly negative.

Regional variation in service use is not equivalent to regional variation in Medicare spending. The two should not be confused.

This paper is an important addition to the work of John Wennberg and his colleagues at Dartmouth on regional variation in spending in the Medicare program. It separates the variation in use of services by individuals with comparable health status from other factors that influence spending, especially Medicare payment policies.

The differences are important because they lead to different policy solutions. Policies to ensure adequate but not excessive volume and intensity of services are separate from, though must be integrated with, policies that establish proper levels of spending for services that Medicare beneficiaries should be receiving.

The complexities of these interdependent policies that would improve spending can be mastered only with a concerted effort by public agencies. The private insurance industry has no capability to create and apply the essential policies that would transform our health care delivery system into the efficient, affordable system that we desperately need.

MedPAC, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, currently provides advice to Congress on proposals to improve spending policies in the Medicare program. Congress is free to reject that advice and often does, more for political reasons than for reasons based on sound policy.

The health care reform proposal before Congress includes provisions to reduce the often perverse politics of Medicare financing by creating a commission, sometimes referred to as MedPAC-on-steroids, with much greater power to enforce its recommendations on spending.

The problem with the proposal is that the recommendations would be limited to the Medicare program alone. Unless the revisions applied to the other five-sixths of our population, it would be difficult to establish policies that would improve the overall use of health care services. Although reform of our financing system is essential, we may not get very far if we don’t have policies that would improve the structure of the health care delivery system.

We really do need an improved Medicare for all. We need to jettison the wasteful, ineffectual private insurers and get on with reform that will use our health care dollars to pay for an efficient health care system that serves all of us well.

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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.

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