Employer-Based Benefits: Health Spending Up 3.9 Percent in 2013

 

The Health Care Cost Institute, a collaboration of four major insurers, has published its 2013 Health Care Cost and Utilization Report and companion Out of Pocket Spending Trends 2013, which discusses cost trends for people with employer-sponsored insurance (ESI):

In 2013, health care spending for the national ESI population grew 3.9%. This growth rate was similar to the rates observed in 2011 (4.0%) and 2012 (3.7%). Spending growth for 2013 was driven mainly by rising prices rather than by utilization, as use of many services declined.

That is mixed news. Prices for outpatient services increased 5.8 percent and by 21.1 percent for brand-name drugs.

Medicare Part D Responsible For 60 Percent of Medicare’s Spending Slowdown

 

When Medicare added Part D, the prescription-drug benefit, via the Medicare Modernization Act (2003), its framers decided that every beneficiary would receive the benefit from a private plan, not from the government directly.

The benefits of this design continue to show themselves. In Health Affairs, Loren Adler and Alex Rosenberg conclude that the Part D benefit is responsible for 60 percent of the reduction in the rate of Medicare spending since 2011.

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Per Patient Spending Higher in Hospital-Owned Physician Groups Than in Physician-Owned Groups

 

Hospitals and multihospital systems have been acquiring medical groups and physician practices at a rapid pace. One cause is the financial incentives provided by Obamacare for physicians to join hospital-affiliated accountable care organizations (ACOs).

Advocates claim that consolidation builds integrated delivery systems (professional, facility, laboratory, and pharmaceutical services) that lead to care that is better coordinated. This reduces duplication of tests and treatment and lowers total expenditures. Health economist James C. Robinson investigated the latter claim using data obtained on total expenditures for care provided to 4.5 million between 2009 and 2012. These patients were covered by commercial HMO insurance and excludes individuals covered by commercial PPO insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.

The table below presents trends in total expenditures per patient between 2009 and 2012.

Government Buries Evidence of Poor Access to Care under Obamacare

 

Thank providence for USA Today, which has given us yet another story describing how poor access to health care is under Obamacare.

People who fell for navigators’ sales pitches and signed up for Obamacare are discovering that it is junk insurance:

“The exchanges have become very much like Medicaid,” says Andrew Kleinman, a plastic surgeon and president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. “Physicians who are in solo practices have to be careful to not take too many patients reimbursed at lower rates or they’re not going to be in business very long.”

Kleinman says his members complain rates can be 50% lower than commercial plans.

“I definitely feel like a bad person who is leeching off the system when I call the doctors’ offices,” she says. Shawn Smith of Seymour, Ind., spent about five months trying to find a primary care doctor on the network who would take her with a new, subsidized silver-level ACA insurance plan.

Obamacare Premiums Increased Dramatically for Every Age Group in 2014

 

HealthPocket, an online insurance broker, has measured the increase in premiums for every age group in Obamacare versus the pre-Obamacare individual market. Their conclusion: Premiums increased by double digits for every age group.

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Medicare Should Revoke Drug Dealers’ License to Steal!

 

Nearly 39 million Medicare beneficiaries, including seniors and the disabled, have subsidized drug coverage thanks to the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003. Medicare drug plans are popular with seniors. Although subsidized by Medicare, Part D plans are offered by private insurers and compete with each other for seniors’ patronage.

When Congress passed the Medicare Part D drug program back in 2003, it inadvertently created a license to steal. Prescription drug abuse costs health plans nearly $75 billion per year — about two-thirds of it from public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That makes Uncle Sam the biggest illicit drug dealer in the country! Prescription drug fraud and abuse also drives up seniors’ premiums as well as boosts costs for taxpayers and health plans that administer seniors’ drugs benefits.

Questionable drug use typically involves addictive painkillers that create a heroin-like euphoria. More than 16,000 people die annually from abusing pain relievers — double the number that die abusing cocaine and heroin combined. For every death, there are 10 people admitted to a treatment program for substance abuse and 32 emergency room visits. For each person who overdoses, 130 chronically abuse prescription drugs and 825 casually use them for nonmedical purposes.

The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports that some individuals themselves are abusing the drugs. In other cases, they attempt to obtain drugs they don’t need in order to profit by reselling them. This is especially true of narcotic pain relievers derived from opium poppy plants. Substantial numbers of narcotic pain relievers are diverted to the illicit market where their “street value” far exceeds their pharmacy costs. For instance, the OIG reports the “street” price of Oxycodone is a dozen times the normal retail price at a pharmacy. Its agents report that a bottle of Oxycodone is worth $1,100 to $2,400 per bottle if sold on the streets of Northern California.oxy

Medicaid on the Oregon Trail

 

A few days ago, I wrote an article suggesting that an effective post-Obamacare reform would be difficult to bring about as long as anti-Obamacare reformers (especially yours truly) stuck to the simple argument that being on Medicaid is as bad (or even worse) than being uninsured. The reason is that the Medicaid beneficiary does not sign up for a national health plan called Medicaid. Instead, he is increasingly likely to sign up for a managed-care plan that contracts with the state to provide Medicaid benefits.

Readers retorted that the nail in Medicaid’s coffin was driven by the Oregon Medicaid experiment, a randomized, controlled trial (sometimes described as “gold standard” which it could not have been, because it was not double blinded). This blog has agreed that the Oregon Medicaid experiment demonstrated the ineffectiveness of Oregon’s Medicaid expansion. However, I am not sure that leads to a general theory of Medicaid’s overall ineffectiveness.

Government Health Metrics: A Solid B+ Even Though Some Medicaid Patients Cannot Get an Appointment

 

In accordance with federal law, Colorado hired Health Services Advisory Group (HSAG) to do an on-site review of Denver Health Medicaid Choice plan performance in 2013. Denver Health is one of Colorado’s biggest Medicaid contractors. It runs a hospital, a pharmacy, 9 satellite primary care clinics, 4 dental clinics, and 16 school-based health centers. HSAG’s report on Denver Health’s performance was published in April, 2014. All Medicaid clients with a Denver address are automatically enrolled in Denver Health Medicaid Choice unless they choose another Medicaid option.

Denver Health scored well overall. It met 87 percent of all of the evaluative standards. Paperwork on coverage, utilization management, provider certification, and denial of claims documentation was in near perfect order. According to its annual Strategic Access Report, 99.8 percent of Medicaid members were within 30 miles of a Denver Health clinic and there were 54 bus stops within a quarter of a mile of its clinics. It had direct access to care for members with special needs, 24-hour emergency access, preventive health programs, and numerous “committees, workgroups, staff trainings, and evaluation of metrics regarding provision of interpreters and understanding of culture with respect to health care.”

Ed Gillespie’s Health Reform Plan a Big Step in the Right Direction

 

Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia has proposed a substantive plan to reform U.S. health care. The Washington Post called it “the most sensible GOP alternative.” An economic consulting firm estimates the plan, which was developed by the 2017 Project, would reduce the federal deficit by $1.13 trillion over 10 years.

There is significant overlap between the 2017 Project’s proposal and the NCPA’s: They both rely on individual tax credits for individually-purchased insurance as a building block for a new, consumer-driven health system.

The 2017 Project’s proposal would give adults under 35 years of age a tax credit of $1,200 a year; those between 35-49 years would get $2,100; and those 50 or older would get $3,000. Those with children would get an additional $900 per child. Those who can buy health insurance for a lower premium can deposit the leftover tax credit in a Health Savings Account.

However, these tax credits would only be available to employees of firms with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees. Those in larger firms, who remain in the employer-based market, would retain non-taxable health benefits, up to a limit. However, the tax exclusion would be capped at the 75th percentile of annual premiums. The value of benefits above this cap would be taxable to the employee. (In 2014, the average premium for single coverage in employer-based benefits is estimated to be $6,223. Let’s say that the 75th percentile is $4,667. So, if a person has coverage worth $6,000, $1,333 of that would be taxable.)

The NCPA’s proposed reform, on the other hand, gives everyone a tax credit and includes all employer-based health benefits in taxable income. The 2017 Project’s alternative is more politically palatable because it does not appear to threaten employer-based benefits. (In fact, the NCPA’s alternative does not prevent employers from offering benefits either.) Like the NCPA’s reform, it restores medical underwriting.

Industry’s User Fees Fail to Improve FDA’s Approvals of Medical Devices

 

In June 2012, I wrote an analysis of the effect of user fees, paid by the medical-device industry, on the Food and Drug Administration’s behavior with respect to approving new medical devices. My conclusion: The FDA had sucked up the dollars without increasing its productivity.

New research, commissioned by the California Healthcare Institute, a trade association, confirms that the industry’s user fees are disappearing into a black hole. Despite putting a positive spin on the behavior of the regulator, which has a choke-hold on the industry’s ability to launch new products, the evidence indicates that the millions of dollars that the industry has paid to the FDA have not improved its performance: