Category: Health Alerts

When is President Obama Going to Admit Obamacare is a Colossal Failure?

Progressive supporters of health reform wanted a public plan option to compete with private insurers offering insurance in the state and federal health exchanges. To draw support from progressives, proponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) created a type of nonprofit health insurance cooperative that would compete with established health insurers. Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, or health insurance COOPs, as they are commonly known, were a political compromise for those who supported allowing non-seniors to buy their way into Medicare or a similar public program.

Last Year’s Medicare “Doc Fix” Is Already Breaking Down. Here Are Some New Fixes

man-in-wheelchair(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

What a difference a year makes! In April 2015, a bipartisan super-majority in Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill to give the federal government even more control over how doctors practice medicine on Medicare beneficiaries. Advertised by Republican and Democratic leaders as a permanent solution to the flawed way Medicare paid doctors, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) was actually Republican politicians’ first vote for Obamacare.

The president himself confirmed this shortly after signing the bill, congratulating leaders of both parties at a White House garden party celebrating the law’s concentration of power within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “I shouldn’t say this with John Boehner here, but that’s one way that this legislation builds on the Affordable Care Act. But let’s put that aside for a second.”

The MACRA was largely pushed the professional societies which claim to represent physicians. Unfortunately, practicing physicians who see patients all day were too busy to pay attention to how the federal government was going to impose itself even more on their practices. In a survey of 600 physicians published earlier this year by Deloitte, half had never heard of MACRA and one third recognized only the name.

That blissful ignorance is dissipating, in the wake of a lengthy rule proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last March. Just the first step in implementing the many technical requirements necessitated by MACRA, the rule has been described as “962 pages of gibberish” by Margalit Gur-Alie, a leading healthcare consultant.

As more practicing physicians have learned about MACRA and the proposed rule, a deluge of comments have forced the Acting Administrator of CMS, Andy Slavitt, to admit its implementation might be delayed beyond its January 2017 start date. This delay provides a window of opportunity to make some changes that could re-direct MACRA in a more positive direction, according to a new report published by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Well Duh! Combat Opioid Abuse by Tracking Prescriptions

Both houses of Congress have passed a bill to tackle opioid abuse. The bill funds training for emergency medical technicians and emergency room personnel and makes drugs to reverse the effects of opioids more readily available in an emergency. According to an article in Modern Healthcare, the legislation just passed should have taken advantage of existing safeguards to strengthen state drug monitoring programs to prevent opioid abuse enabled by doctor shopping. The bill does increase grants to states for drug monitoring programs. But the bill does not require states to ensure doctors actually check the state database.

A Bipartisan “Yes” On A Health Care Tax Credit

health-insurance(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearHealth.)

Ready for some good news on health reform? Both the presumptive Democratic candidate for President and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives agree people should be able to spend more money directly on medical care without insurance companies meddling.

Both sides would be shocked to have their respective health reforms described as sharing any common ground. However, identifying this common ground might be necessary if either side wants to fix the worst aspects of Obamacare.

If Republican politicians in Congress want to give people any relief from the burden of Obamacare, they need to be prepared for the possibility they will have to deal with Hillary Clinton’s White House next year.

Speaker Ryan’s recently released Better Way health reform plan would offer a refundable tax credit for health care, to anyone who does not have employer-based health benefits. This tax credit would increase with age, but be available regardless of income. It would be a fixed-dollar amount for each age bracket. This is superior to Obamacare for at least two reasons.

Should Drug Investors Worry About Medicare Revenues?

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

The pharmaceutical sector has held up quite well in this aging bull market. Now, a new political risk is on the horizon: The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was instituted in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2015, the IPAB was empowered to cut Medicare spending if costs increased faster than a certain rate. It quickly faded into the background as the growth in Medicare spending moderated after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.

Those days are gone. The latest annual Medicare Trustees’ report, published on June 22, indicates Medicare spending will cross the threshold for IPAB to swing into action in 2017. The 2017 threshold is determined by a target rate of growth which is the average of the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the medical-care component of the CPI. Estimates of both actual Medicare spending per capita and the target rate are calculated as five-year averages.

Table I, extracted from a recent presentation by Medicare’s Chief Actuary, illustrates why investors are becoming concerned. Table I highlights this year’s Medicare spending per capita will increase 2.21 percent (averaged over the five years, 2014 through 2018). The target rate is 2.33 percent, higher than the estimated actual rate, so the threshold is not crossed. IPAB remains asleep.

20160708 Forbes IPAB TI

The Fantasy of Single-Payer Health Care In The States

HEALTHCARE LAW PROTESTS AT SUPREME COURT(A version of this Health Alert was published in the Washington Examiner)

One of the defining characteristics of Bernie Sanders’ socialism is single-payer healthcare, a fully taxpayer-funded universal medical system. Single-payer healthcare has long had a following in the United States, but it is unlikely to become federal policy. Obamacare’s setbacks have made Americans less confident than ever that the federal government could operate such a system.

So single-payer advocates are focusing on individual states. This November Coloradans will vote on single-payer healthcare. A couple of years ago, Vermont’s governor tried to institute it, but gave up short of the finish line. Other states will surely try. I would put Oregon and (maybe) Hawaii at the top of the list of states to watch.

If successful, this would be a Canadian-style roll-out of single-payer healthcare, which began in individual provinces in the mid-20th century and subsequently won federal support. However, there are significant obstacles to any state instituting true single-payer healthcare in 21st-century America, even if the people or politicians choose it.

Wholesale Drug Price Transparency Laws Won’t Lower Costs

Price transparency is an enormous benefit to consumers in retail markets. Consumers who make the effort to shop around often discover drug prices can vary from one pharmacy to the next. Retail drug prices are mostly transparent; patients generally encounter few problems when calling a pharmacy to ask what a given drug costs on their health plan. However, with the possible exception of buying an automobile, wholesale price transparency provides little benefit to consumers. The reason price transparency serves almost no purpose for consumers in wholesale markets is because consumers don’t buy from wholesale markets!

Transparency Tools Work — but Require Appropriate Incentives

A recent New York Times article by Reed Abelson blames the slow adoption of online transparency tools on “health care’s complexity.” Abelson argues… “It is impossible to know, for example, whether a dermatologist who costs twice as much as another can more successfully diagnose skin cancer.” The article briefly mentions the case study of two large employers who found online transparency tools did not reduce consumer spending.

Reforming Medicare Part D to Improve Access to Medicines

Variety of Medicine in Pill Bottles(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Specialty drugs are typically high-cost prescription drugs used to treat complex chronic and/or life threatening conditions. Many do not have substitutes available at lower costs.  Over the last decade, the Medicare Part D benefit has imposed high out-of-pocket costs as a way to control costs of specialty drugs. This is causing many patients not to fill prescriptions. Some patients may be adding costs to the system by getting drugs more expensively by injection in doctors’ offices, where they are covered by Medicare supplemental insurance.

A Bogus Solution for High Drug Costs

Americans’ prescription drug bills are on the rise. Total drug spending increased by nearly one-quarter in the past couple years. Much of that increase is on high-tech, specialty drugs — such as those used to treat cancer, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Drugs whose patents have not yet expired are sometimes very expensive; especially those recently approved. By contrast, most of the drugs Americans take are actually cheap generic drugs. Generics are cheap because they are no longer protected by patents and different manufacturers can compete on price. Consumers opt for a generic drug about 88 percent of the time when filling a prescription. Nonetheless, policymakers have a solution; but it’s the wrong one.