Tag: "Health Care Costs"

Obamacare’s Shrinking Costs Should Bring Tax Cuts

debtThe Congressional Budget Office’s March budget baseline updates its estimates of costs and insurance coverage due to Obamacare. The March baseline estimates that the gross cost of Obamacare’s subsidies and Medicaid spending for the years 2016 through 2025 will be $1.7 trillion, $286 billion less than it had estimated in the January baseline.

The CBO calculates a so-called “net cost” by subtracting revenues from businesses and individuals paying the mandate/fine/penalty/tax for not buying Obamacare, the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health cost insurance, and the effect of changes in taxable compensation. This net cost has shrunk by $142 billion to $1,207 billion.

Even more impressive are the reductions in the cost of Obamacare from the CBO’s original March 2010 score of Obamacare. The two estimates overlap for the seven years, 2015 through 2021. The original estimate was that Obamacare’s gross cost would be $1.4 trillion over the period, and the net cost $1 trillion. These have shrunk to $992 billion and $751 billion, reductions of 28 percent and 29 percent.

When the CBO issues a new baseline, it updates its estimate of Obamacare’s insurance provisions. What it does not do is update its estimate of revenues from the host of other taxes in the Affordable Care Act, such as the medical-device excise tax.

So, it is not immediately obvious that Obamacare’s shrinking cost estimates should open the door to cutting some of those harmful taxes – which they should.

FDA Approves First Biosimilar Drug; Still No Guidance on Names

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first biosimilar therapy in the U.S.:electronic-medical-record

Many newer biotech drugs cost more than $100,000 per year, and together they account for nearly 30 percent of all U.S. drug spending. Five of the top 10 U.S. drugs by revenue are biotech medicines, according to IMS Health. Since their introduction in the 1980s, biotech drugs haven’t faced generic competition because the FDA did not have a system to approve copies.

In 2012, the FDA laid out a regulatory pathway to approve so-called “biosimilars.” That’s the industry term for generic biotech drugs, indicating they’re not exact copies. For years the biotech industry staved off competition by arguing their drugs were too complex to be reproduced by competitors. (Matthew Perrone and Linda A. Johnson, Associated Press via Denver Post)

The Kline-Ryan-Upton Republican Off-Ramp from Obamacare

Tomorrow is the day the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in King vs. Burwell, and all the talk is about what Congress will do if the Supreme Court directs the Administration to obey the law by not paying subsidies in the majority of states, which have declined to establish their own Obamacare exchanges and defaulted to the federal one.

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed (available by subscription) by John Kline, Paul Ryan, and Fred Upton, who chair committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives that will be tasked with proposing a Congressional response to this decision. Here’s what they write:

Let people buy insurance across state lines. Stop frivolous lawsuits by enacting medical-liability reform. Let small businesses band together so they get a fair deal from insurance companies.

Obamacare Subsidies Made Up One Fifth of Government Transfer Payments in January

January’s Personal Income and Outlays report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows how significant Obamacare’s subsidies are in the scheme of government transfer payments to households, accounting for 21 percent of the increase in government transfer payments in January:

Personal current transfer receipts increased $24.8 billion in January, compared with an increase of $13.8 billion in December. The January estimates of current transfer receipts reflected several special factors…… Other government social benefits to persons was boosted $5.3 billion, primarily reflecting health insurance premium subsidies paid in the form of tax credits to enrollees of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

The Fall of Government Unions And Slowing Health Costs

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (available by subscription) about a recent legal decision on retiree health benefits shines the light on is a reason for optimism about the slow growth in health spending.

As readers know, I look pretty closely at the economic data from various government agencies, and they are starting to show an uptick in health spending and prices. However, a recent Supreme Court decision weakens the power of government unions to demand exorbitant retiree health benefits, according to Robert C. Pozen and Ronald J. Gilson.

Health Spending Chews Through A Weak Economy

Today’s second estimate of fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) confirmed what we pointed out from the initial estimate released on January 30: Health spending is chewing up more and more of the weakening economic recovery.

GDP growth was actually revised down from the initial estimate of 2.6 percent to a second estimate of just 2.2 percent. In dollar terms, it was a drop from $106 billion to just $88.1 billion.

Health spending, initially estimated at $20.4 billion was tweaked up a little to $21.4 billion. In other words, health spending devoured one quarter of GDP growth in the fourth quarter.

These are the wages of Obamacare: An increasing share of our prosperity diverted to a health sector that is increasingly frustrating to patients and physicians alike.

Prices for Health Goods Rallying

As the economy slowly crawls its way back towards growth, inflation is well under control. However, healthcare inflation is rearing its head. Table 1 presents data from the February release of the Producer Price Index.

Over the last twelve months through January, producer prices increased by zilch, and actually decreased since last December. Prices of goods for final demand actually dropped 3.7 percent over the year. Pharmaceutical preparations, however, increased by 7.3 percent, and other healthcare goods also had higher inflation than other goods for final demand (which, I hate to state, also weakens the argument that the medical-device excise tax is having as negative an effect as the industry claims).20150219 PPI

 

Where are the “Open Payments” from Government?

doctor-xray-2Well, now we know how much pharmaceutical companies and medical-device makers pay doctors for consulting and similar services. Paul Keckley aptly summarizes last week’s data dump from the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS):

  • In the last five months of 2013, drug manufacturers made 4.4 million payments totaling $3.5B to 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals to encourage acceptance and use of their drugs/devices: $1.49B for research, $1.02B for ownership interests, $380M for speaking/consulting fees, $302M for royalties/licensing, $93M for meals, $74M for travel, and $128M for “other.”

Why are Health Insurers Persecuting Innovative Drug-Makers, Instead of Bloated Hospitals?

One constant refrain heard in national health policy circles is the need for “integrated” or “coordinated” care. To be sure, I have never heard anyone speak favorably of “disintegrated” or “un-coordinated” care. While there are many good-faith practitioners who do want to integrate and coordinate care for patients, these terms are often used to camouflage a more straightforward way to raise prices. Here’s an example from Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

money-burdenFor the past four years, Pennsylvania insurance company Highmark has watched its bills for cancer care skyrocket. The increase wasn’t because of new drugs being prescribed or a spike in diagnoses. Instead, the culprit was a change that had nothing to do with care: Previously independent oncology clinics and private practices have been acquired by big hospital systems that charge higher rates, sometimes three times as much, for chemotherapy drugs. “The site of care and the type of service provided does not change at all,” says Tom Fitzpatrick, Highmark’s vice president of contracting. “The only significant difference that we primarily see is the [patient] gets a wristband placed on them.”

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