Category: Health Alerts

New Evidence That Obamacare Is Working?

Obamacare supporters are excited by a research article suggesting Obamacare is working to increase access to care. In an article published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers followed up respondents to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (which I’ve discussed previously.)

Yes, in an absolute sense, their access to care improved. According to the Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn, this means “Another Argument From Obamacare Critics Is Starting To Crumble.”

Oh dear. Even Citizen Cohn admits “The picture from the raw data is a little muddled” and “like all academic studies, this one will be subject to scrutiny that, over time, could call its findings into question.” Well, I won’t call them into question, just point out what is obvious from the abstract itself: Obamacare is dong a terrible job increasing access to care.

Blurring Boundaries Between Biotech, Digital Health, Patient Care Show Need For Regulatory Reform

HSA(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes on July 29, 2015.)

When was the last time a billionaire entrepreneur en route to New York to raise a couple of hundred million dollars for biotech company stopped in Washington, DC to spend the afternoon in a panel discussion advocating the need for fundamental reform of the Food and Drug Administration?

Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, founder of the NantWorks group pf companies, did just that on Monday afternoon. At the event, the Bipartisan Policy Center launched a report on advancing medical innovation in America. Written by a team led by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, MD, and former Representative Bart Gordon, the report seeks support for a number of steps to reform regulatory processes and reduce the cost of medical innovation.

Regulating Genomic Research: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

iStock_000012644846Small(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes on July 27, 2015.)

The next frontier in information technology is genomic sequencing, which will create the biggest of big data resources by 2025, according to experts in the field. It has been 15 years since President Clinton announced the first sequencing of the human genome; and it is now clear that researchers’ ability to free the unimaginable wealth of information locked inside our genomes is bumping up against constraints imposed largely by the federal government.

Health Insurers’ Merger Mania On Hold?

(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes on July 22.)

Just a few weeks ago, it was declared that a great pent-up demand for mergers and acquisitions among health insurers would unleash itself as a result of Obamacare’s confirmation by the Supreme Court. And so it did, for a while at least.

Insurers

In 2011, two deals (Cigna’s acquisition of Health Spring and Aetna’s purchase of Coventry Health Care) were worth $9.5 billion. Today’s three pending deals are much larger, amounting to almost one hundred billion dollars. However. today’s consolidation seems less sure.

When Will We See Fiscally Responsible Health Reform from Congressional Republicans?

(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy on July 16, 2015.)

Just a few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress announced a oint budget resolution, which (if ever enacted) would repeal Obamacare and balance the budget in ten years. That is all well and good. Unfortunately, when they pass health care legislation that actually has a chance of becoming law, they fail to pay for their promises. How can they be trusted to repeal and replace Obamacare with fiscally responsible, patient-centered health reform?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by $353 billion over ten years, before considering the economic growth that would result from repeal. Because repeal would grow the economy, federal tax revenues would increase by $216 billion, resulting in a net deficit of $137 billion. So, when Republicans actually repeal Obamacare, they will still have to cut $137 billion of spending elsewhere.

Yet, they cannot even identify miniscule spending cuts to pay for current health-related bills. The latest is repeal of the medical device excise tax. This is a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices – from pacemakers to MRI scanners – to help pay for Obamacare. On June 18, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the tax. Every Republican present voted for it, plus about one fifth of the Democrat members. With those 46 Democrats joining the majority, the votes in favor added up to 280, just eight short of the number needed to override the promised presidential veto. It awaits a vote in the Senate.

Hooray! Cheap Lab Tests Coming to a Walgreens Near You! No Physician Required!

A recent Huffington Post article explains how a 31-year old college dropout wants to alter your relationship with your doctor — but in a good way. Elizabeth Holmes, a self-made billionaire, is in the process of shaking up the stodgy laboratory testing industry. The first of her tests have received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with others to follow.

Unbelievable! Senator Hatch Cannot Find $30 Billion For Medical Device Excise Tax Repeal

(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Congress may be on the verge of repealing Obamacare’s medical device excise tax. I am all for repealing it, which will reduce funding for Obamacare by $24 billion over ten years. Of course, that means it will increase the deficit by $24 billion, which means Congress has to offset repeal by cutting spending by the same amount.

Can’t be done, says Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee: “It’s pretty hard to come up with a $30 billion offset,” (as reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Isaac Stanley-Becker). I am not sure how Senator Hatch rounded the figure up to $30 billion, but that does not really matter.

It should be as hard to find $24 billion or $30 billion of spending offsets as it is to find a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Here are some examples, plucked from the pages of President Obama’s budget proposals:

Caution: 21st Century Cures Act Has A Suspicious Payment Plan

prescription-drugs(A version of this Health Alert was published by Investors Business Daily.)

The House of Representatives is scheduled this week to consider the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6), a health policy bill designed to improve the economic incentives and streamline the process for inventing new medicines.

We applaud the act. It will go a long way to solving the crisis in pharmaceutical innovation. But we caution against the mandatory funding proposal in the bill and urge Congress to authorize and appropriate the funds instead of creating a new, mandatory spending program.

What King v. Burwell Means for California’s Obamacare Exchange

(A version of this op-ed was published by the Orange County Register.)

It is usually not a good idea to take the risk of predicting what politicians and bureaucrats will do, but here’s a shot: California will decide to wind down the failing Covered California Obamacare exchange and transfer its operations to healthcare.gov, the federal exchange. That won’t solve any of the fundamental problems of Obamacare itself, but at least it will relieve the state of a problem child.

California established Covered California because the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, only allows tax credits to be paid to health insurers in exchanges established by states. These tax credits are the only way to make the expensive Obamacare plans affordable to beneficiaries. All but 16 states and D.C. rejected Obamacare and declined to establish exchanges. That did not stop the federal government, which set up healthcare.gov to funnel tax credits to health insurers in the majority of states without exchanges.

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court decided King v. Burwell, rewriting the law to allow the federal government to continue to pay tax credits through healthcare.gov. Although a disappointment for the rule of law, the decision gives California an off-ramp from the exchange business.

Over-the-Counter Contraceptives Better than a Mandate

“The Pill” turned 50 in May of 2010.  With the advent of oral contraceptives, couples had far better contraceptive options.  Democratic supporters of Obamacare wanted to make contraceptives more affordable by mandating contraceptive coverage.  Many supporters view the mandate as a feminist issue and assume anyone who opposes it is waging a war on women. The problem is that mandated benefits are not free; they come with costs that would be more efficiently borne by individuals.

Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) also want to make birth control pills easier to afford — and more accessible.  They sponsored Senate Bill 1438, Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act. S.1438 would encourage the sale of hormonal contraceptives over the counter (OTC) without a prescription.