Sep
21

The most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

You Bet Your Life was a 1940’s radio quiz show featuring comedian Groucho Marx; contestants vied for prizes and cash.

If you or your family members have pre-existing medical conditions, the election is a reprise of the show – Republicans want to end coverage for pre-ex, and Democrats will keep that coverage in place.

If the Trump Administration’s Texas lawsuit backed by Republican Attorneys General succeeds, you can lose coverage for pre-existing conditions if you change healthplans, switch jobs, move, marry, divorce, or have a child. If Trump and Republicans win the case in Texas;

Briefly, Republican Attorneys General have sued to overturn the ACA, and the Trump Administration is aggressively supporting the suit.  The Trump Administration and AGs’ claim the entire law must be thrown out because the individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured – was killed by the Republican Congress in 2017.

In so doing, it would end protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Make no mistake, if Trump et al win the suit and you have to change health insurance plans, you are at real risk of losing coverage  – or having to pay so much you can’t afford it.

Despite President Trump’s assertions, there is No Republican plan to assure those with hypertension, diabetes, a history of heart disease, cancer, anxiety disorder, or any other health condition will be able to afford health insurance.

If you just won lotto, you’re all set. If not, you’re screwed.

Ignore Trump’s claims that there is a replacement plan in the works because:

What they do have is bait-and-switch.

As Groucho would say about the Republican claim they’ll cover your pre-ex;

What does this mean for you?

If you or a family member have a pre-existing condition, this election is about you.

If you aren’t sure, here’s a list.

And if you think you can hide your condition, you can’t. 


Sep
10

The Trump Healthcare plan explained – briefly

Yesterday we discussed Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s healthcare plan.

Today we’ll do the same for President Trump’s healthcare plan, which was promised to be ready before the upcoming election…

Five times this year President Trump has promised he will unveil a replacement for “Obamacare”. As of this writing, I have not been able to locate any such replacement plan documentation, web pages, policy statements or plan descriptions other than a couple described below. If you have any details, please share in the comments section below.

It’s not just me – Forbes wasn’t able to locate the President’s plan.

So, if you are looking for a brief explanation – you can stop reading here.

For those who want more detail, here it is.

Unfortunately it appears the White House’s healthcare page has not been updated since 2017 so we will have to rely on public pronouncements and speeches.

Trump’s campaign site does have a list of objectives, but no actual plan, policy description, or details on how these will be met:

This has made it rather difficult to analyze Trump’s plan, so we will have to use the President’s pronouncements to assume what his plan will be. Please note that wherever possible I have cited official White House or Trump Administration sources below.

Pre-existing conditions

The President has repeatedly stated that his plan will require “health insurance companies to cover all preexisting conditions for all customers,” including during a press briefing in early August. In that briefing, Trump stated:

Over the next two weeks, [emphasis added] I’ll be pursuing a major executive order requiring health insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions for all customers. That’s a big thing. I’ve always been very strongly in favor — we have to cover pre-existing conditions. So we will be pursuing a major executive order, requiring health insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions for all of its customers.

This has never been done before, but it’s time the people of our country are properly represented and properly taken care of.

[note – requiring health insurers to cover pre-ex conditions is imbedded in the ACA (sometimes referred to as Obamacare) and is the law of the land today as that provision of the ACA remains in effect.] source cited is US Dept of Health and Human Services, part of the Trump Administration

Takeaway – taking the President at his word, any new healthcare plan will provide coverage for pre-existing conditions. We do not know if the Trump Healthcare Plan will allow insurers to charge extra for that coverage, or limit coverage to some dollar amount. (that is not allowed under the ACA)

Medicaid changes

Trump has sought to end Medicaid expansion, change funding, and institute work requirements. While these all sound good in sound bites, like many complex issues things sound a lot less good when you peel back the curtain.

Ending the expansion of Medicaid would crush hospital financials, especially in rural, western, midwestern and southern states.  In many areas Medicaid is a critical funding source for facilities; those states that have expanded Medicaid (including deep red Oklahoma) would be in dire straits if the rug was pulled out from under them.

The President has pushed hard to change the way Medicaid is funded to a “block grant” method.  Essentially a block grant is a fixed amount of funding; this would replace part or all of the current funding which is based on a percentage of expenses.

Simple in concept, this is much harder to implement, and completely unsuited to our current situation where Medicaid enrollment is rapidly growing due to the fallout from COVID. We haven’t heard much about block grants of late from the President, so not sure if they are still under consideration.

The same is true for work requirements. Many low income folks don’t have internet access, which is required to submit the detailed documentation required under state Medicaid work requirements. Then they need reliable transportation to get to work – which many don’t have. And there are few jobs available these days in many states due to COVID.

Takeaway – Trump wants to end Medicaid expansion, change its funding mechanism, and require some recipients to work. It is highly doubtful any of this will happen.

Drug prices

The President has authored several executive orders around drug prices, but didn’t follow through on actually implementing those orders.

Trump’s move appeared to be intended to force pharma manufacturers to the bargaining table, but that hasn’t happened. Despite Trump’s statement that he would take unilateral action if pharma didn’t cooperate with him by August 25, he didn’t follow thru on that threat.

More troubling, pharma execs don’t know anything about any meeting or discussion.

Takeaway – no significant action to control drug prices is likely.

What does this mean for you?

It’s really hard to say. 

 


Sep
9

The Biden Healthcare plan explained – briefly

Healthcare will be the most significant near-term impact of this election.

If Joe Biden wins and the Dems take the Senate, here’s what we can expect.

Biden’s healthcare plan addresses the biggest problems with the ACA (known to some as Obamacare).

  1. Individual health insurance plans are way too expensive.
  2. About a third of all states didn’t expand Medicaid
  3. The big insurers have little competition.
  4. Medicare – and Medicare recipients – are paying far too much for drugs

Briefly, the Biden Plan would:

  • Cap individual health insurance premiums at 8.5% of income
  • Set up a public option like Medicare anyone could buy into
  • Allow 60-65 year olds to buy into Medicare
  • Have Medicare negotiate drug prices with manufacturers
  • Solve the Medicaid expansion problem by covering low-income folks in non-expansion states through a Federal program
  • Ban surprise medical billing for insureds that require out of network hospital care
  • Ensure pre-existing conditions are covered

The additional costs would be paid for in part by savings (e.g. drug costs) and abolishing the capital gains tax break for those making more than a million dollars a year. (More detail on this plan, along with pros and cons – is here.)

Does this solve the ACA’s problems?

It’s not a cure-all, but Biden’s plan does go a long way to fixing the ACA’s two biggest problems – healthcare is still unaffordable and prices are still too high.

For most families covered under the plan, healthcare costs would likely decrease significantly. The 8.5% cap on insurance costs is a major change as insurance premiums in many areas are north of $12,000 a year.

Healthcare providers would:

  • Scream if folks now covered by private insurers switched to a Medicare-type program as reimbursement would drop;
  • Cheer if a lot more patients had health insurance; hospitals’ indigent care costs are escalating rapidly

The real problem with healthcare costs in the US is our prices for services are way too high. Covering a lot more Americans thru a government plan would force facilities and providers to get a lot more efficient.

Over the last six years I’ve done many a deep dive into the ACA’s shortcomings and why they exist; posts are here.

Bob Laszewski penned a very good piece on the plan here. Well worth a read.


Nov
15

The most important thing you aren’t paying attention to

Is the ACA case in Texas.

Briefly, Republican Attorneys General have sued to overturn the ACA.  The AGs’ claim the entire law must be thrown out because the individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured – was killed by Congress in 2017.

You may recall that, in addition to the mandate, the ACA:

  • expanded Medicaid to more low-income families and individuals
  • reduced seniors’ drug costs by closing the “Donut Hole” in Part D plans
  • reduced insurance costs for older Americans
  • increased funding to fight healthcare fraud
  • increased funding for rural healthcare
  • increased tax credits for small businesses providing health insurance
  • provided insurance subsidies for families making less than $88,000
  • required insurers to offer complete insurance coverage to all without discriminating by medical condition, age, or sex

If the Republican Attorneys General prevail, the ACA will be overturned, and health insurers will be allowed to:

  • stop covering pre-existing conditions; 
  • stop covering your adult kids;
  • limit your maximum dollar benefit;
  • exclude different types of medical care
  • medically underwrite small groups; and 
  • subsidies for folks buying health insurance go away.

Meanwhile, there is NO alternative plan if the judge rules in favor of the AGs. While HHS Secretary Seema Verna says there will be a replacement plan, there are no details about this “plan“, and no information whatsoever from the President or Congress.

photo credit Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for the Texas Tribute,

I don’t understand how the entire law can be overturned because one part of it is no longer in effect – but I’m no attorney and will leave that to those readers who are.

From a political perspective, this doesn’t seem too smart on the part of Republicans.  People hate losing things they already have – much more than they don’t like not getting things they wish they had. And if the ACA is overturned, millions of voters – including millions of seniors – will be really mad.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re a Medicare recipient, parent, make less than $88,000 a year, are a small business owner, have pre-existing condition, and/or need comprehensive insurance coverage…

nothing good.


Jul
1

Key takeaways from what happened last week

Here’s what else was happening last week while we were tracking One Call’s financial troubles…

Who’s for Medicare For All? Who wants to “abolish private health insurance in favor of a public run plan?”

That was the question asked of the 20 (!) Democratic candidates for President at last week’s debate with the request that those in favor raise their hands.

While it was great to see politicians put on the spot, forced to give a “yes or no” answer, the reality is it’s not that simple: There are multiple and quite different versions of “MFA”, ranging from Sanders’ version which is the “no cost to consumers, covers everyone, administered by the Feds, paid for with a big tax increase” to others’ “you can buy into Medicare if you want or keep your employer-based coverage.”

When someone tells you Candidate X wants to do away with your health insurance, make sure that someone knows what they are talking about. Ask them to define exactly what Candidate X’s platform is, then fact check with Google.

Here’s a great side-by-side analysis of all the health reform bills now under consideration. Lots of nuance here…

Provider consolidation – costs and benefits

The California Health Care Foundation published a solid analysis of the implications costs and possible benefits of provider consolidation.

The net – costs go up, quality of care doesn’t.

Key takeaways include:

  • A study of US hospitals by Stanford University researchers found that “hospital ownership of physician practices leads to higher prices and higher levels of hospital spending.”
  • vertical integration increases hospitals’ bargaining power with insurers.
  • Physician groups owned by large hospital systems were more than 50% more expensive than those owned exclusively by physicians, and
  •  “Physician-hospital integration did not improve the quality of care for the overwhelming majority of [quality] measures,”

Drug pricing

Thanks to WCRI for sharing their Flash Report on Drug Trends. The researchers looked at very recent data from 27 states; key takeaways include:

  • compound utilization has fallen off a cliff
  • opioid spend dropped in every one of the 27 states
  • Louisiana’s opioid spend topped all study states at $100 per claim per quarter
  • total drug spend also decreased in 25 of the 27 states.

A brief video intro is available here.  And, the findings parallel what I’m hearing from respondents to our latest PBM in WC Survey.

Next up, another excellent piece from Adam Fein on spread pricing and rebates.

Dr Fein opines that spread pricing – the PBM makes its money on the difference between what it pays the pharmacy and what it charges the payer – isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He also discusses how some manufacturers use rebate payments as a way to force buyers to use their drugs.

head’s up – I’m about halfway thru the 16th (or is it 17th?) “Annual survey of pharmacy benefit management in workers’ comp”; pricing is a hot topic, but the respondents’ views are not what I expected. More on this next week…

Worker mis-classification

Excellent piece in WorkCompCentral about the ongoing effort to combat the real fraud in comp – sleazy employers, employee leasing companies, and labor brokers that lie to avoid paying workers’ comp premiums.

The piece reviews research by Harvard University’s Law School; the research was triggered by:

the USDOL [Department of Labor]…rolling back worker protections in a variety of ways, initially withdrawing a WHD Administrative Interpretation on misclassification, and piloting an amnesty program for wage and hour violators, called the PAID program. As a result of this retreat at the federal level, state enforcement has become more critical than ever.

The entire report is here; the takeaway [emphasis added] is:

“Misclassification and payroll fraud harm workers, depriving them of rights and protections to which they are legally entitled. Law abiding businesses also suffer, as they struggle to compete with companies that unlawfully lower their costs”

Have a great holiday week, enjoy friends and family, and get out and away from work.

I am!


Apr
10

On the one hand…

We have a healthplan you’ll absolutely love.  Covers EVERYTHING – glasses, hearing aids, nursing home care, doctor visits, hospital care, surgery, drugs – all FREE!

It’s the about-to-be-announced BernieCare 2.0, aka the “Whole Enchilada Plan”. You can go to  any doctor, hospital, acupuncturist, yoga instructor, therapist, or nursing home your heart – or other internal organ – desires. And did I say, it’s all for FREE!

On the other hand, there’s the SkimpyPlan – and as the Brits say, it’s “on offer” today. Well, it was until a Federal Judge ruled it isn’t.

SkimpyPlans cover, well, not much. Especially if you had one of those pre-existing condition things. You know, migraines, high blood pressure, the “C” word, bad knees, anxiety or pretty much anything else. Oh, and the list of doctors and hospitals is, well, “limited”… and they don’t cover drugs, or pregnancy, or, well, lots of things.

But hey! they’re cheap! Affordable even!

Ok, enough with the sarcasm, here’s where this is headed.

For some unfathomable reason Mitch McConnell and the current Administration think these SkimpyPlans are a great response to the not-hated-any-more ACA.  SkimpyPlans are pretty much the only plan offered by the GOP, and they are awful. They are getting hammered in the press as patients find themselves without coverage for needed care, facing tens of thousands in medical bills, stuck fighting faceless bureaucrats in some distant “insurance company” via voice mail.

Sure many are covered by their employers, even that is getting unaffordable for many AND sticking families with big bills. 

Then there’s the While Enchilada Plan – an end to paperwork, doctor shopping, copays and deductibles, and all FREE.

Do you see where this is going?


Apr
8

“Sharing ministries” are NOT health insurance

To those who took my April 1 post on the Administration’s decision to use “sharing ministries” as the basis for their new health reform plan for fact – I’m kinda sorry. 

The April Fool’s post has been a tradition here; this year’s effort caught more folks than most of the previous ones. But after I stopped high-fiving myself, I realized that what was most disturbing was it’s kind of believable.

As in, the knuckleheads in the current Administration might actually think “sharing ministries” are the answer to our healthcare crisis.

Ha! you say; no one is that naive.  To that I say, well, hundreds (ok, maybe scores) of readers thought the post was real, mostly because we’ve been numbed by the endless stream of lies, twisted facts, made-up statistics, and idiotic policy proposals coming out of Washington.

So, yeah, ditching insurance for “sharing ministries” is about the worst “solution” one could come up with. I say this despite the 18 commenters who responded to the post, many happy with their decision to dump insurance and pay into some form of “sharing ministry”.

While I appreciate that people of faith may trust others who appear to share their same views, I’d strongly encourage anyone – especially the million of so Americans who already are enrolled in one of these plans – to reconsider their decision. Like, NOW.

 

Because while legal under the ACA, these plans are NOT insurance, can dry up and blow away at any time, are NOT regulated, are NOT legally required or obligated to pay any claim, and are NOT required to keep enough money on hand to actually pay claims. (graphics from Commonwealth Fund)

What does this mean for you?

The net is this – when you NEED health insurance, you REALLY need it. And there are NO guarantees these sharing ministries will be there.

 


Mar
29

Another reason Single Payer is inevitable

Earlier this week President Trump called for the GOP to become “the Party of Great Healthcare.”

He wants three Senators to come up with a “terrific, beautiful” healthcare plan.

What Trump is actually doing is accelerating the day when Single Payer becomes reality.

In one tweet, here’s why:

Stick with me here. The President doesn’t know the difference between tax policy (deductibility) and healthcare benefit design (deductibles). Unless, of course, he was referring to the deductibility of health insurance premiums, which many think is “ridiculously high”. Except, of course, Trump wasn’t.

Many may say, “yeah, that’s just a typo”, or “doesn’t matter, we know what he meant”.

And those many are dead wrong.

Trump  – and his gang of three who are supposed to come up with a new Great Healthcare Plan – don’t know anything about the healthcare problem in this country, what’s driving it, how financing works, how people are affected, what the tradeoffs are, or anything else.

Healthcare is enormously complicated, accounts for 1 of every 6 dollars in our economy, employs 16 million Americans, and is deeply personal. The GOP has never come up with any plan that remotely addresses the problem with healthcare, namely prices are too high, many can’t afford insurance and quality is spotty at best.

Their go-to solution – the free market – is no solution at all.

In the “free market”, no insurer is ever going to insure your pre-existing condition, nor will it ever  cover your kids to 26, nor will it pay for all your care no matter how sick you are or how expensive it gets. 

About 5 minutes after Trump’s gang of three starts working on their Great Healthcare Plan their heads will explode. They have no idea what they are doing and a real solution requires them to abandon long-held fictions about healthcare and the economy.

Which is why Trump’s Great Healthcare Plan will make Single Payer reality.

To quote Winston Churchill;

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

(here’s a very funny infographic on TrumpCare)


Mar
27

WTF are they doing??

Yesterday’s announcement that the Justice Department will move to kill the entire ACA – with NO replacement legislation – sent shock waves thru the healthcare world.

And will send many Americans straight over the edge.

If the Trump Administration is successful, 21 million of us will lose healthcare.

Up to 133 million Americans will lose coverage for pre-existing conditions for individuals and small employers.

Insurers will be able to charge older Americans whatever they want for insurance policies.

Seniors’ drug costs will increase dramatically – along with costs for wellness checks, copays, and premiums.

Hospitals will get hammered as they are forced to treat uninsured people with no chance of reimbursement.

Treatment for opioid abuse disorder will be cut by $874 million.

Insurers will be able to cap what they spend on your healthcare costs.

You may find your kids between 18 – 26 are no longer covered by your insurance.

What’s even more stunning is the Trump Administration is doing all this with no plan to fix healthcare.  No legislation, no regulations, nothing at all.

For the vast majority of Americans this is catastrophically stupid and for Republicans politically idiotic.

The Trump Administration is shoving Americans off a cliff, with no regard to what lies beneath.

What does this mean for you?

If Trump et al succeed, you’re going to pay a lot more for worse coverage  – if you can get it – that has caps on what your insurer will pay for and your kids over 21 are on their own.

 

 

 


Oct
24

This election is about your pre-existing medical condition

Will you be able to afford health insurance, and will that insurance cover your pre-existing medical conditions? For most, that’s the biggest issue in the upcoming election.

Congressional Republicans are planning to pass legislation that allows insurers to:

a) stop paying for your pre-ex conditions; and/or

b) charge you anything they want for your health insurance – which does the same thing

Ignore their claims that they will protect you, because:

What they do have is bait-and-switch.

Republican candidates are pushing legislation that would “force insurers to cover all pre-existing conditions” – but they could charge you anything they want for that insurance. 

If you just won the $1.4 billion lotto, you’re all set. If not, you’re screwed.

What does this mean for you?

If you or a family member have a pre-existing condition, this election is about you.

If you aren’t sure, here’s a list.

And if you think you can hide your condition, you can’t.