August 24, 2016
Most will remember that one of the most spirited debates during congressional consideration of the Affordable Care Act, back in the early days of the Obama administration, concerned the proposed creation of a government-run health insurance plan that would compete alongside private plans in the new insurance exchanges. Lawmakers rightly rejected the idea, arguing that it would create a degree of federal involvement in health insurance far exceeding the comfort level of moderates and conservatives, create an uneven and potentially destabilizing playing field in the health coverage marketplace, and cause a displacement of employer-based insurance as a result of federally-set, artificially-low premiums and deductibles.
Even HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, at the time, that the public option was not “an essential element for reform.”
As we’re witnessing the health insurance exchanges facing some well-publicized difficulties today, we’re hearing more calls from candidates and interest groups to bring back the public option.
We need to give those calls a deaf ear.
No doubt, the next Congress and administration will need to address the state of the Obamacare exchanges, making the right policy decisions to enable health plans to compete without absorbing unsustainable losses. Forcing those plans to compete with a taxpayer-subsidized insurance alternative will only bring less stability, not more.
And just as important to the long-term sustainability of our healthcare system and accessibility to care for a growing number of patients, the public option is detrimental to physicians and hospitals. A government-run plan that reimburses for services at Medicare rates will “disrupt the fragile financial system that sustains hospitals today.”
The quotation in the previous paragraph came from a letter jointly written this summer by the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals. Their letter points out that Medicare is paying less than the actual cost of care being delivered to patients. They note, “adding millions more enrollees whose health care would be reimbursed at Medicare rates would likely threaten access to needed health care services, particularly for those in vulnerable communities.”
They added, “We continue to believe the framework of health care exchanges providing subsidized coverage, combined with expansion of the Medicaid program, was the best means of achieving universal coverage. The addition of a public option at this time would only introduce greater uncertainty to a health care system that is experiencing rapid transformation.”
We agree. Let’s strengthen the health insurance exchanges and leave the public option as an interesting chapter in the history of healthcare policy debates.
January 20, 2015
There has been plenty of discussion about the health coverage gap between the states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility and the 23 states that have, thus far, declined to do so. As a Kaiser Family Foundation study last December pointed out, about four million Americans living in states that have not altered their Medicaid thresholds have incomes that are above Medicaid eligibility but below the lower limit for tax credits to use for purchasing insurance in the health exchanges.
What has received less attention is the impact of the Medicaid debate on job creation. An article this week in the Dayton Daily News noted that about 7,000 new positions have been created in hospitals, physicians’ offices and other healthcare facilities in the first full year of Medicaid expansion in Ohio, an increase over the previous year’s job growth in the healthcare sector.
This is consistent with a Missouri study released last year which found that health sector job creation growth rates were significantly higher (2.1 percent versus 0.7 percent) in states that had expanded Medicaid eligibility versus those that haven’t.
The Healthcare Leadership Council has long maintained that expanding Medicaid is not the ideal tool, given its relatively low reimbursement rates and the number of physicians that are not accepting new Medicaid patients, for reducing the uninsured population. Making more individuals eligible for Medicaid, under the parameters of the Affordable Care Act, is preferable, though, to asking healthcare providers to bear larger uncompensated care burdens at a time when they are already absorbing ACA payment cuts.
We continue to urge the Obama Administration to be flexible toward the innovative steps a number of states are taking to expand coverage to more low-income citizens.
October 22, 2014
(We have made the point often in this space that, even with the private sector’s successes in containing healthcare costs and reducing Medicare per-capita spending to historic lows, the sheer magnitude of baby boomers reaching 65 and reaching Medicare eligibility necessitates significant changes to the program. Moving away from a fee-for-service model that incentivizes volume rather than value is essential. As Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna (a Healthcare Leadership Council member) points out in this Forbes op-ed column, innovative approaches to Medicare payment and healthcare delivery can achieve better patient health and improved system sustainability.)
By Mark T. Bertolini
The Medicare Part A trust fund will be exhausted by 2030. As 11,000 baby boomers become eligible for Medicare daily, Medicare spending is projected to exceed $1 trillion in 2020. We can’t change the numbers that define our population but, we can apply new math to them.
Focus first on helping the chronically ill
The sickest 5 percent of fee-for-service Medicare patients with chronic conditions drive more than 40 percent of the total cost of health care in the program. We should use the lessons learned in Medicare Advantage and other proven innovations. Encourage Medicare Part A and B enrollees with multiple chronic conditions to participate in new integrated care programs with top-notch physicians to ensure high-quality service. Pay managed care organizations rates that guarantee savings for taxpayers out of the gate.
Use the successes and learnings of this approach to phase out the Medicare fee-for-service payment model
The fee-for-service model has doctors getting paid by the number of procedures they do or tests they run, rather than on how well their patients do. We need to move to a system that pays for quality over quantity.
These two changes alone will mean lower cost coupled with better integrated, quality care for the members of our families that need that care the most.
While the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that estimated costs of Medicare and Medicaid have dropped, our country’s coffers are still being drained by a too-costly health care system. This was reconfirmed in July, when the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds projected that Medicare costs will grow from their current level of 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to at least 5.3 percent of the GDP in 2035.
Consider this: As baby boomers become Medicare eligible, the number of beneficiaries will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 81 million in 2030—a 60 percent increase in less than 20 years. Add to this that the tax base is shrinking: Baby boomers are retiring, leaving the country with a much smaller workforce paying a much higher Medicare tax burden. With average life expectancy projected to reach 81.5 years by 2030, on average those seniors will use Medicare benefits for three times as long as when Medicare was enacted in 1965. Chronic conditions among Medicare beneficiaries also are on the rise, making them a sicker and more expensive population than existed in 1965.
The current fee-for-service payment model unintentionally incentivizes the wrong kinds of behaviors—spending less time with patients, or having more tests and procedures. There is little reward for finding more efficient ways to make people better or for keeping them healthy in the first place.
Bringing innovative collaboration to traditional Medicare
Many programs that have been so effective for caring for Medicare Advantage’s sickest beneficiaries, including enhanced home-based care, care coordination and medication review, are not always covered under traditional Medicare. Our experience in Medicare Advantage shows the promise of these models. For several years, we have worked with health care providers to establish reimbursement models based on risk-sharing that encourages higher-quality performance. Aetna Aetna’s Medicare Advantage Provider Collaboration program, and its work to create accountable care organizations (ACOs), are examples of cooperative arrangements that are improving care quality and health outcomes while also reducing costs. In many instances, these programs have resulted in fewer inpatient hospital days, fewer hospital admissions and fewer readmissions for patients, which can reduce health care costs by as much as 30 percent.
Bringing innovative provider collaborations and managed care approaches to traditional Medicare is a winning proposition for everyone. Patients could get a full team of experts providing customized and focused attention, and be rewarded with incentives for adhering to treatment. Doctors could get greater support, information and resources to help their patients get and stay healthy. Managed care companies could serve a broader Medicare population, as long as they meet the required quality and outcomes results. Taxpayers could get a lower-cost, better-quality healthcare system.
In the past, we have shied away from making significant changes to Medicare, since the issues seemed to be so far down the road. That is no longer the case. Our Medicare spending has a tremendous impact on our economy now, and that will only increase over the next decade. Our population is aging too quickly and our nation’s Medicare costs are growing too rapidly for us to be timid. We need to take dramatic action now, and revolutionize how we approach the problem. The numbers can work if we are ready to adopt a new model. We can achieve a result that includes both healthier seniors and a lower tax burden.
, Access to Coverage for the Uninsured
, Evidence-Based Medicine
, Health Literacy and Disparities
, Health Reform
, Healthcare Costs and Value
, Protecting Innovation
, Wellness and Chronic Care Management
September 08, 2014
If her first public address as Health and Human Services Secretary is any indication, Sylvia Burwell has her department headed in a positive and much-needed direction.
Speaking to an audience at George Washington University, Secretary Burwell made it clear that she has no interest in maintaining the partisan strife that has characterized the handling of healthcare issues in recent years. In describing her governing philosophy, she said “What’s central to all of this is not politics. It’s progress: setting aside the back and forth and continuing to move forward.”
Secretary Burwell also emphasized the need for transparency in HHS actions and decisionmaking, bipartisanship and listening to stakeholders.
The last of those points is going to be particularly important given the challenges facing HHS in the coming months. All parties hope that the next open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act will go more smoothly than the initial sign-up efforts. Making that happen will, by necessity, involve listening to the expert, hands-on perspectives of healthcare insurers and providers. The Healthcare Leadership Council has, in fact, developed and provided a number of recommendations, generated from the insights of its member companies, on how to improve upon the previous open enrollment period.
Also, there is rulemaking scheduled this fall related to the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. I like to think that the regulatory controversy over Part D earlier this year – when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ceased action on aspects of a proposed rule because of strong response from hundreds of healthcare and patient organizations over the prospects of fewer Part D plan choices and higher drug costs – could have been avoided with more communication between federal authorities and those groups working to preserve a strong, affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit.
With such important issues on the horizon, we strongly applaud the direction Secretary Burwell has set for her department and welcome the opportunity to work with her in achieving shared goals for American healthcare.
July 02, 2014
The White House’s Council of Economic Advisors released a report this week that is clearly intended to intensify the pressure on the 24 states that have, thus far, refused to expand their Medicaid programs, as provided for under the Affordable Care Act. As we recall, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot compel states to go along with the Medicaid eligibility expansion and many, predominantly with Republican governors and/or legislatures, have elected to pass.
In its report, the White House’s economic advisors make the point that almost 5.7 million more Americans will have health coverage in 2016 if these currently non-compliant states embrace expansion.
We’ve made clear in this space the Healthcare Leadership Council’s view that Medicaid is not the best option for reducing America’s uninsured rolls. Medicaid’s reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals, significantly lower than private insurance and even Medicare, underscore the point that coverage does not necessarily equal access. Nonetheless, less-than-ideal coverage is better than no coverage for the millions of Americans who need healthcare but can’t afford to pay the providers who are delivering that care.
But, while it’s easy to blame states for not getting on board, the Administration needs to recognize its own responsibilities in this area.
It is fortuitous timing that the White House report was released in the same week that the state of Indiana submitted its proposal to the Department of Health and Human Services for an expansion of its Healthy Indiana program as an alternative to enlarging traditional Medicaid. As Indiana governor Mike Pence wrote in an op-ed, Healthy Indiana 2.0 is a better fit for the sensibilities of his state in that in that enrollees can take greater control of their own healthcare decisions through contributions to private accounts that are not unlike health savings accounts.
As he put it, “As national leaders in healthcare innovation, Hoosiers understand empowering people to take greater ownership of their healthcare choices is better than government-driven healthcare.” Pence backed up his rhetoric with metrics showing that Healthy Indiana participants use preventive health services at a high rate while making less use of expensive emergency room care.
The Indiana case, as well as the movement toward innovative Medicaid plans in Iowa, Arkansas and other states, emphasizes the argument that flexibility is critical in bringing Medicaid expansion to all 50 states. It’s simply a political reality that many states with conservative-leaning leaders do not like ‘Obamacare,’ don’t necessarily trust the federal government to keep its promises in regard to financial support for Medicaid expansion and are not going to change their current programs.
On the other hand, granting flexibility to make better use of private health plans and to incorporate patient engagement and responsibility can help resolve a situation in which we’re essentially two separate nations when it comes to Medicaid. HHS approving the Indiana proposal would be an excellent step in this necessary direction.