It’s too bad former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to talk about his state’s health care reform legislation on the campaign trail. If he did, he’d have a pretty good story to tell.
The reform plan, which President Obama used as a model for the national reform, lifted the number of insured residents in the Bay State from 86.6 percent in 2006 to 94.2 percent in 2010, according to a new study published yesterday by Health Affairs.
An expansion of public programs didn’t account for the gains. The number of people with employer-based coverage rose to 68 percent of the adult population in 2010 from 64.4 percent four years earlier. This is exactly the opposite of what many business groups are claiming will happen after the national reform goes into effect in 2014.
Moreover, out-of-pocket expenses declined for the average beneficiary. The number of people reporting they paid 10 percent of their family income on health care fell from 9.8 percent to 6.1 percent over the four years. Again, early fears that the Massachusetts reform would lead to a major shift in costs to consumers have not panned out.
Continue reading “The Massachusetts Miracle: Romney’s Health Care Reform Plan Works”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: 2012 Election, Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, Obamacare, The States
Jan 31, 2012
The Great Recession has achieved what 20 years of policy machinations in Washington could not. For the second straight year, the world’s most expensive health-care system did not gobble up a greater share of the nation’s economy. In fact, health care grew at a slightly slower pace.
Health spending rose just 3.9 percent to $2.59 trillion in 2010, only one-tenth of a percentage point faster than the previous year. That was slightly below the 4.2 percent nominal growth in gross domestic product (GDP), which means health care stayed at 17.9 of the total economy, no different than the prior year.
This represents the third straight year of markedly slower growth in health-care spending, compared to the prior decade. Health care was 13.8 percent of GDP in 2000 and 12.5 percent in 1990.
The lingering effects of the U.S. economic slowdown were largely responsible for a slower growth of health-care consumption, economists at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. Cash-strapped consumers postponed elective surgeries, put off doctor visits and switched to generic drugs to hold down out-of-pocket costs, which grew just 1.8 percent in 2010.
The economic downturn “caused many people to lose employer-sponsored health insurance and people cut back on their use of care,” said Anne B. Martin, an economist at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Continue reading “Recession Drives Lower Health Spending”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner
Tagged: CMS, GDP, Health care spending, The Great Recession
Jan 10, 2012
Holiday cheer and bipartisan bonhomie are still possible on Capitol Hill.
For evidence, one need only look at the so-called “doc fix,” where Congress every year overrides a previous effort at health care cost control to ensure physicians get paid at least as much as they did the year before. Expect another present to arrive at physicians’ offices sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, now that the Super Committee has failed to permanently resolve the issue as part of Medicare’s contribution to long-term deficit control.
The heretical thought that the salaries of physicians who treat Medicare patients could be held in check dates from the mid-1990s. The optimistically entitled 1997 Balanced Budget Act created a “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) for physician reimbursement that said any increase in total pay for physicians could not exceed the growth rate of the rest of the economy.
That was wishful thinking, as it turned out. Health care costs and physician pay far exceeded economic growth, largely because of Medicare’s fee-for-service system. While the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services could fix the reimbursement rate for the 7,000 price-controlled services offered by physicians, it could not put a brake on the quantity that physicians ordered.
“This system, which ties annual updates to cumulative expenditures, has failed to restrain volume growth and, in fact, may have exacerbated it,” the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) noted in its non-binding recommendations to Congress in mid-October.
Continue reading “The Doc Fix”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, Physicians, THCB
Tagged: CBO, Costs, MedPAC, physician pay, SGR, sustainable growth rate
Nov 28, 2011
By MERRILL GOOZNER
The latest Journal of the American Medical Association has a meta-analysis of the limited number (8) of studies that looked at peoples’ television habits and their relationship to incidence of diabetes, heart disease and early death. According to Anders Grøntved of the University of Southern Denmark and Frank B. Hu of Harvard Medical School, two hours of television viewing per day resulted in a 20 percent increase in type 2 diabetes, a 15 percent increase in heart disease, and a 13 percent increase in all-cause mortality. All the findings were statistically significant. In absolute terms, for every 100,000 people who viewed TV for at least two hours a day, there were an additional 176 cases of type 2 diabetes, 38 cases of fatal cardiovascular disease, and 104 deaths of any type.
Is this really a smoking gun? Correlation is not causation. What else do we know about people who watch at least two hours of TV a day? Are they depressed? Are they bored? Is their sedentary lifestyle a product of some underlying condition, which may actually be the proximate cause of the diseased state?
As the authors note in their discussion:
Although the included studies attempted to control for various known risk factors, the possibility of residual or unmeasured confounding cannot be ruled out. . . Although all of the included studies excluded participants with chronic disease at baseline, it is still possible that reverse causality may contribute to some of the associations reported herein if participants with subclinical stages of disease become more sedentary.
Karen Goozner, a certified school counselor, recently surveyed the literature that associated violent childhood behavior with watching violence on TV. The literature suggested it was a co-factor, not a causative factor. she said. In other words, families with a history of violence – who believed physicial violence was an appropriate response to social or child-rearing problems and role-modeled that behavior for their children — tended to also watch violent television for entertainment. Did the TV do it? Or was it mom or dad?
Television can be blamed for many things. Bad writing. Bad acting. But let’s not blame the escape valve for the pressures of modern life and worklife that has driven western Europeans (3.5 hours a day average); Australians (4 hours a day average) and Americans (5 hours a day average) to seek refuge in the depressing, all-night escape of drinking in front of the tube.
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner
Jun 16, 2011
Dr. Len over at the American Cancer Society is raising legitimate questions about the early release of findings by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that cell phone use may increase the risk of brain cancer (hat tip to Gary Schwitzer’s HealthNewsReview). The actual study — drawn from an analysis of “hundreds of scientific articles ” — won’t be published in Lancet Oncology “for a few days,” according to IARC. Says Dr. Len:
Unfortunately, drawing broad and sweeping conclusions based on a press release and a news conference leaves many of us wondering just what the evidence shows that led to the conclusion announced today that “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” may be possibly cause cancer in people.
The evidence, when it appears, will be murky. A few years ago, I spent several months reviewing some of the evidence in this troubling field, largely from a conflict-of-interest perspective. The global telecommunications industry funds much of the science. Even when government agencies fund research, the results are difficult to interpret. The studies invariably involve looking for a very small number of negative health outcomes (brain cancers) in very large populations. Two researchers, looking at the very same set of epidemiological facts, will often come to different conclusions. And, as often as not, those conclusions correlate with whether the the researchers are independent or whether they are on industry’s payroll. Continue reading “The Role of Conflicted Science in the Cell Phone-Cancer Link”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner
Tagged: Cancer, Cell phone, Merrill Goozner, WHO
Jun 1, 2011
Experimentation in how states would move toward universal health care coverage was written into the DNA of the Affordable Care Act. The law allowed any state to petition for a waiver that would enable it to enact its own brand of reform — including versions that did not include an individual mandate to purchase coverage or penalize employers who didn’t provide it – as long as their plans met the basic criteria of the law in terms of covering most people, providing comprehensive coverage, being affordable, and not increasing the federal deficit.
President Obama yesterday offered to move up the date for states that want to pursue their own visions of reform from 2017 to 2014. Stories in today’s press billed this as an effort by the administration to assuage conservative critics who’ve filed suit against the law and governors from both political parties who fear its economic impact. Medicaid expansion accounts for about half of the newly covered people under reform. Even with the feds picking up 90 percent of the tab, many states in today’s fiscal environment are wary of any new obligations — even one where they’re only on the hook for 10 percent.
As I wrote last month, leaving states to implement reform provides Americans with a classic example of federalism in action, one that may or may not lead to a common system across the U.S. In the early part of the 20th century, states began setting up unemployment and workers compensation insurance systems. The former became a shared federal-state responsibility with common features across the U.S. The latter remained unique to each state. Ohio, for instance, has a single-payer workers compensation system and insurance companies are prohibited from selling policies in the state. Continue reading “Laboratories of Democracy, Part 2″
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, THCB
Tagged: Obamacare, Repeal, Waivers
Mar 1, 2011
Today’s New England Journal of Medicine reports the results of a government-funded study of two potential approaches to giving emergency diuretics to congestive heart failure patients who show up on emergency room doorsteps gasping for breath. Should it be through a continuous drip or periodic injections? Should physicians prescribe high doses or low doses of these fluid dispersal drugs? Cost isn’t an issue since diuretics are generics. The pressing question was whether high doses caused a greater incidence of renal failure, which had been suggested by a number of smaller trials.
This comparative effectiveness study is the kind of research that never receives attention in the press. No new drugs are involved, nor does it involve a high-profile disease. But it merits closer scrutiny because of the patient population. There are more than a million patients who enter hospitals every year with acute episodes of congestive heart failure. The average age in this study was 66, i.e., Medicare was paying the tab. Three quarters had been admitted to the hospital within the past year. More than half had diabetes, and around 40 percent had implanted defibrillators. Most were on two or more drugs for high blood pressure. I searched for data on the average weight of this population, but, alas, that wasn’t included. I think you can guess.
The results were mildly interesting. It didn’t matter what approach physicians took, the outcomes were about the same. Fears of exacerbating renal failure in this vulnerable patient population from high dose diuretics appear to be overblown.
I’m afraid this is going to be the conclusion of much comparative effectiveness research, which received a major shot in the arm through the 2009 stimulus bill and will receive a continuous injection of funds from the Affordable Care Act, presuming the Republicans in Congress aren’t successful in de-funding the bill. Physician and hospital practice will have better evidence about what to do in certain situations, but radical changes in procedures that have a dramatic impact on cost will be elusive. Continue reading “Heart Failure or System Failure?”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Comparative Effectiveness Research, Diuretics
Feb 28, 2011
For most of the past decade, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have competed over who could pour more money into the National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of biomedical research in the world.
But the party is over. The budget cuts proposed by a leading House Republican this week included cancellation of the $1 billion that the Obama administration wanted to add to the $31 billion NIH budget.
It was part of a broad assault on science funding that was announced by appropriations chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who also called for large cuts at the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The purpose, according to Rogers, is “to rein in spending to help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs.”
If creating jobs is his goal, Rogers might want to take a look at a new study that appeared yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that publicly-funded research is a far more important contributor to the creation of new drugs and vaccines than previously thought. The classical view of innovation is that government funds basic science, while industry comes up with the new and innovative products based on that science. Continue reading “NIH and Drug Innovation”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, OP-ED
Tagged: Drug development, NEJM, NIH
Feb 14, 2011
If “Obamacare” was a federal takeover of health care, states failed to get the memo.
The House Republicans and three Democrats who voted to “repeal and replace” it with something that provides “lower health care premiums through increased competition and choice” might want to take a look at Utah. Its new internet-based insurance exchange was designed by free-market advocates.
It provides small businesses, individuals and even some large employers with access to competitive insurance plans. The state’s Republican leadership, aided by Michael Leavitt, the state’s former governor and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, believes their exchange “could be a national model for market-based health care reform.”
Closer to where they go to work every day, the “repeal and replacers” in Washington might also want to follow onrushing events in Virginia, whose state attorney general sued to void the individual mandate in the national law. Last month, using a $1 million planning grant from the federal government, the state’s Republican secretary of health Bill Hazel, an orthopedic surgeon, issued a “Virginia Health Reform Initiative” that outlined the state’s vision of reform under the federal Affordable Care Act.
It’s centerpiece? The proposal, which was introduced in both houses of the state legislature this month with bipartisan support, calls for setting up a health care insurance exchange that will “try to promote effective competition” within the state, said Len Nichols, a professor of health policy at George Mason University, who consulted with Hazel in coming up with the proposal. Virginia desperately needs some competition since one carrier – Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield – currently controls over 60 percent of the market, Nichols said.
Continue reading “The Laboratories of Democracy”
Filed Under: Health Plans, Merrill Goozner, OP-ED
Tagged: Free Market, Health insurance, The States
Jan 23, 2011
The tone on Capitol Hill during Tuesday’s debate was more civil, the partisan rhetoric less harsh than previous exchanges on the House floor. But there’s little doubt that the Republican-led House will vote later today to repeal President Obama’s signature health care reform law.
That largely symbolic vote – there’s almost no likelihood the Democratic Senate will follow, nor would the president sign the bill – signals the start of a two-year campaign by newly empowered Republicans in the House to undermine the new law. Proponents of “repeal and replace” will next turn to eliminating the most unpopular elements of the law—including the individual mandate – and to cutting off funding for implementation.
But the administration won a powerful set of centrist allies on Tuesday as it scrambled to set in motion reforms that it believes will be popular with the American people once its key provisions go into effect. The new law, signed by Obama last March, is designed to provide about 32 million previously-uninsured Americans with coverage either through Medicaid or subsidized private insurance sold through state-based insurance exchanges. The total cost of the program of about $900 billion will be paid for by a combination of tax increases and slower growth in Medicare spending. The law also places consumer-friendly restrictions on insurance carriers, funds Medicare pilot models in alternative care delivery, and creates a government-run long-term care insurance program.
Continue reading “Centrists Back Health Care Reform”
Filed Under: Merrill Goozner, OP-ED
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Bi-partisan, Healthcare reform, Repeal
Jan 19, 2011