Tag: "Medicare"

Have House Republicans Cast Their First Vote for Obamacare?

A similar version of this Health Alert appeared at Forbes.

Former Speaker of the U.S. Representatives Newt Gingrich said something last week that many feared, but few have been willing to admit: Republicans in Congress have no intention of repealing and replacing Obamacare with patient-centered health reform.

Faced with an interviewer who seemed to believe opposition to Obamacare is actually opposition to Barack Obama, and who suggested that after this president leaves office, opposition will soften, Mr. Gingrich accused his former colleagues of misrepresenting their commitment.

Now that we are in the twilight of the Obama presidency, and Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, they should be able to put such charges to rest. Unfortunately, last week’s overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives for a deal to lock in Obamacare’s way of paying doctors sends a terrible signal.

Critics Pile On Flawed Medicare Doc Fix

The Boehner-Pelosi so-called Medicare “doc fix” is taking on water, despite (or because of?) overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

Here’s David Hogberg at The Federalist:

……it replaces it with a new payments system that will cause the sickest Medicare patients to suffer the most. The bill’s new payment system is based on three Medicare programs: the “Physician Quality Reporting Program,” the “Value-Based Modifier,” and “Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records,” all of which are supposed to improve the quality of treatment for Medicare beneficiaries. None of these programs have demonstrated any quality improvements on their own, yet the MACR now seeks to lump them all into one program called the “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System” (MIPS).

Honor Roll: 37 Voted Against the Budget Busting Medicare Doc Fix

“While I support an SGR replacement, I cannot vote in favor of a bill that costs more than $200 billion, while Congress only pays for $70 billion, leaving more than $130 billion to our children and grandchildren. We cannot continue to solve every problem by adding to the deficit,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said in a statement.

The 37 Congressmen who voted against include high-ranking Republicans Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan.

Cristina Marcos of The Hill reports the entire list.

The GOP’s Proposed Budgets’ Effect on Medicare and Medicaid

Today’s appalling vote in favor of a so-called Medicare doc fix that will increase the deficit by $141 billion makes it hard to take the House and Senate budget resolutions seriously. Nevertheless, they have a lot of positive reform in them. Sean Parnell of the Heartland Institute interviewed me for the Heartland Institute’s podcast.

The interview happened a few days ago, before we knew that almost all House Republicans were about to vote to endorse Obamacare’s vision of controlling Medicare by federalizing the practice of medicine. Nevertheless, if the Republicans ever re-gather their bearings. maybe they will move their budget forward.

Hear the entire podcast here.

How Conservatives Rationalize the Budget Busting Medicare Doc Fix

Opposition to the outrageous so-called Medicare doc fix bill, which will increase the deficit by $141 billion, is growing. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute explains how this will “bust the budget.” My Forbes editor, Avik Roy, pleads that the Senate stop this monstrosity (which passed the House by a huge majority).

On the other hand, there are those unfortunate conservatives who endorsed the bill before the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had announced what a budget buster it was. My friend Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform appreciates that the CBO score could give us a feeling of “whiplash”.

97 Percent of Medicare Doc Fix Deficit Funded

Today’s Health Alert warned against the so-called Medicare doc fix that is being jammed through the Congress this week. The Health Alert was written and published before the Congressional Budget Office issued its estimate of the bill’s effect on the deficit.

Here it is:

Over the 2015–2025 period, CBO estimates, enacting H.R. 2 would increase both direct spending (by about $145 billion) and revenues (by about $4 billion), resulting in a $141 billion increase in federal budget deficits (see table on page 2). Although the legislation would affect direct spending and revenues, it would waive the pay-as-you-go procedures that otherwise apply.

Less than three percent of this spending binge is paid for. Over 97 percent is deficit financed. This is how Republicans are showing how they can govern, especially on health reform?

Not in my worst nightmare did I think the bill would be this outrageous. As they say in America: “You gotta be kidding me!”

Any politician who votes for this will surely not be considered a credible voice in the debate over post-Obamacare health reform.

Here is the Heritage Foundation’s take. And AEI’s James Capretta and Scott Gottlieb.

Kick the Medicare Doc Fix Down The Road

Confident Doctors

A similar version of this Health Alert appeared at Forbes.

Congressional leaders from both parties have agreed on a long-term, so-called “doc fix” that claims to solve the problem of how the federal government pays doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Currently, Congress has a certain amount of money every year to pay doctors. This amount of money increases according to a formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which was established in 1997. The SGR is comprised of four factors that (by the standards of federal health policy) are fairly easy to understand. Most importantly, the SGR depends on the change in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

The Medicare Part B program, which pays for physicians, is an explicit “pay as you go” system. Seniors pay one quarter of the costs through premiums, and taxpayers (and their children and grandchildren) pay the rest through the U.S. Treasury. Therefore, it is appropriate taxpayers’ ability to pay (as measured by real GDP per capita) be an input into the amount.

The problem is the amount is not enough. If growth in Medicare’s payments to doctors were limited by the SGR, the payments would drop by about one-fifth, and they would stop seeing Medicare patients. So, at least once a year, Congress increases the payments for a few months. The latest patch (H.R. 4302) was passed in March 2014 and runs through March 31, 2015. It costs $15.8 billion.

This has happened 17 times since 1997. Congress has never allowed Medicare’s physician fees to drop. So, why not pass a long-term fix? This would finally free politicians from having to grub around every year finding money to pay doctors, and they could turn their attention to loftier matters.

Actually, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of any “doc fix”, and certainly this one.

Obamacare is Driving Up Medicare Premiums

Obamacare includes a “health insurance providers fee” that is significantly increasing premiums. The fee is a fixed-dollar amount that is divvied up among insurers according to the amount of premium they write.

People who are really getting hit by this fee include Medicare Advantage beneficiaries who are enrolled in through retiree benefits. Because their former employers pay a share of their premium, the insurance fee has a disproportionate impact.

One reader sent me correspondence from his former employer’s HR department explaining why premiums are going up. In 2011, he paid $32.81 per month for both himself and his wife. In 2012 and 2013, the premium was $42.93. In 2014, it jumped up to $121.03, and $138.93 this year.

According the HR department, $40 (per person) of the 2014 increase was due to the fee, and $8-$10 of the 2015 increase:

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Well, the total increase in premium for 2014 was $78.10. So, we can conclude that the increase was entirely accounted for by the fee. Indeed, their premium would have gone down a couple of bucks, if not for the fee. The same is true for the 2015 increase.

Premiums almost tripled, for the sole purpose of funding Obamacare. No wonder seniors want this repealed and replaced.

Congressional Budget Resolutions Shoot for the Sky; Miss Low-Hanging Fruit

The House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee have passed budget resolutions that shoot for the sky with respect to health reform. Their proposals recommit the Republican majorities to patient-centered health reform and show a path forward for the next president. However, they do not harvest some low-hanging fruit offered by President Obama. Failure to do so might doom patient-centered health reform to the forever future.

Let Medicare Patients Decide Which Accountable Care Organization to Join

Woman Using Exercise MachineA similar version of this Health Alert appeared at Forbes.

One of the reasons people rebelled against Obamacare was that it financed the growth of government-run health care through drastic cuts to Medicare. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Medicare spending will see a $455 billion cut over the next decade, which would finance almost half of Obamacare spending.

Most of the Medicare cuts were simply reducing the fees Medicare pays doctors and hospitals. These payment mechanisms would make a Soviet bureaucrat blush. William Hsiao, the economist who designed the Medicare Prospective Payment System, determined Medicare’s fees as follows:

“He put together a large team that interviewed and surveyed thousands of physicians from almost two dozen specialties. They analyzed what was involved in everything from 45 minutes of psychotherapy for a patient with panic attacks to a hysterectomy for a woman with cervical cancer. They determined that the hysterectomy takes about twice as much time as the session of psychotherapy, 3.8 times as much mental effort, 4.47 times as much technical skill and physical effort, and 4.24 times as much risk. The total calculation: 4.99 times as much work. Eventually, Hsiao and his team arrived at a relative value for every single thing doctors do.” (Rick Mayes and Robert A. Berenson, Medicare Prospective Payment and the Shaping of U.S. Health Care, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, p. 86.)

Instead of Fee-For-Service (FFS), Medicare planners and their academic supporters endorse various bureaucratic methods of paying for “value” – as perceived by the government. Indeed, Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, recently expressed the – ahem – aspirational goal of tying 85 percent of Medicare’s payments to value by 2016, and 90 percent by 2018.