Trump

Trump

Trump’s Healthcare Plan: Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription

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Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.37.58 AMDonald Trump recently released a healthcare reform plan. If only he had spent as much time crafting it as he does his hair. 

The GOP frontrunner is right that Obamacare has failed to fix what ails America’s healthcare system. As Trump put it, the Affordable Care Act has “tragically but predictably resulted in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition and fewer choices.”  He famously said that he wants to “repeal and replace with something terrific.”

But “terrific” his plan is not.

Take, for instance, his proposal to legalize the importation of “safe and dependable [prescription] drugs from overseas.”

Importing cheaper drugs from other countries may seem like a great way to reduce the cost of medicine for Americans. But there are important reasons why it’s currently prohibited.

Repealed or Repaired?

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Last Wednesday marked the sixth anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As of this week, the five Presidential aspirants have each articulated key changes they’d propose, though polls show interest in the law is largely among Democrats who consider healthcare a major issue along with national security and the economy.

GOP candidates Trump, Cruz and Kasich say they will repeal the law; Democratic frontrunner Clinton says she will repair it, and her challenger, Bernie Sanders, promises to replace it with universal coverage. Some speculate that candidate Clinton’s plan will ultimately mirror her Health Security Act of 1993 that parallels the Affordable Care Act in many respects. But the law gets scant attention on the campaign trails other than their intent about its destiny if elected.

I have read the ACA at least 30 times, each time musing over its complexity, intended results, unintended consequences and hanging chads. At the risk of over-simplification, the law purposed to achieve two aims: to increase access to insurance for those unable to qualify or afford coverage, and to bend the cost curve downward from its 30 year climb. It passed both houses of Congress in the midst of our nation’s second deepest downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment was above 10%, the GDP was flat, and companies were cutting costs and offshoring to adapt.

The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” soon after became known as the “Affordable Care Act”, and then, in the 2010 Congressional Campaign season that followed its passage, “Obamacare”. It was then and now a divisive law: Kaiser tracking polls show the nation has been evenly divided for and against: those opposed see it as “the government takeover of healthcare” that will dismantle an arguably expensive system that works for most, while those supportive see it as a necessary to securing insurance coverage for those lacking.

Seven Pillars of Trumpcare

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flying cadeuciiIt is possible that in a few months from now, only Nate Silver’s prediction models will stand between Donald Trump and the White House. I will leave it to future anthropologists to write about the significance of that moment. For now, the question “What will President Trump be doing when he is not building a wall?” has assumed salience.

This is relatively easy to answer when it comes to health policy. Just ask what people want. Seniors don’t want Medicare rescinded. Even the free market fundamentalist group, the Tea Party, wants Medicare benefits as they stand. At one of their demonstrations against Obamacare a protester warned, without leaving a trace of irony, “Government, hands off my Medicare.

Rest assured, Trump will protect Medicare. Even raising the eligibility age for Medicare may be off the cards as far as he is concerned. He has promised that no one will be left dying on the streets. That people no longer die on the streets, but in hospitals, because emergency rooms must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, is irrelevant. The point is that Mr. Trump knows that the public values their healthcare. Trumpcare will show that Trump cares.

The End of Civilization and the Real Donald Trump

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The pandemic started quietly.  In the spring of 2017 A few hundred dead chickens appeared in markets in Hong Kong and a few other cities in China.   Public health officials in China were slow to respond.  They did not want to panic the public about an avian flu outbreak.  Nor were they eager to take the steps necessary to contain such an outbreak—the killing hundreds of thousands of chickens and poultry with devastating economic consequences.  While the delay went on a few cases began to occur on Canadian and American poultry farms.  Department of Agriculture experts traced the outbreak to waterfowl migrating from Northern flyways, probably from Asia.   Inquiries were made about avian flu outbreaks in Asian nations.  Then the unthinkable happened.   Humans in Hong Kong began to get sick.  Very sick.  Some died.  Those who died were in their twenties.

The avian flu virus had mutated.  H7N9m had transformed into an agent that not only could infect humans but did so with a transmissibility and lethality that had not been seen since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

Then the first American died.  A young man back from a business trip to Hong Kong.  The media, already primed for hysterical coverage following the severe Zika outbreak in the Southern United States in the summer and fall of 2016, went into full panic-dispensing mode.  ‘Experts’ began to appear on the cable channels who suggested that the outbreak was the result of irresponsible genetic research in China.  Still others suggested that it was the bioterror work of North Korean scientists.  One or two pointed toward ISIS arguing that they had grown desperate in the face of the massive air war that the new administration had launched.  Still others saw the hand of right or left wing domestic terrorists.  And an accident at an American lab was put into the boiling cauldron of speculation and conspiracy.

Feeling the Bern on Universal Single-Player Healthcare

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“Elephant in the living room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious untruth going unaddressed. In most political platforms about healthcare and its coverage, there is a most resolutely immovable elephant in our living room. It is there with every single candidate.  But with Bernie….

You’ve just got to love Bernie Sanders.  It makes me feel like I’m 22 years old in the 1960’s and dumb as all get out about how you pay for things. But let us consider Mr. Sanders’ healthcare proposal. From his own website:

“Bernie’s plan would create a federally administered single-payer health care program.  Universal single-payer health care means comprehensive coverage for all Americans.  Bernie’s plan will cover the entire continuum of health care, from inpatient to outpatient care; preventive to emergency care; primary care to specialty care, including long-term and palliative care; vision, hearing and oral health care; mental health and substance abuse services; as well as prescription medications, medical equipment, supplies, diagnostics and treatments. Patients will be able to choose a health care provider without worrying about whether that provider is in-network and will be able to get the care they need without having to read any fine print or trying to figure out how they can afford the out-of-pocket costs…[etc.].”

Bernie sure didn’t go half way on this one. All care, whenever, wherever, however. A fundamental right with no filter. OK. So he jumped in with both feet. You’ve got to admire his elan.  But what might this mean and how can he ignore what happened in his own home state?

The Trump Healthcare Interview: Part 2

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Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 9.55.09 AMDonald Trump is leading the Republican delegate count and has the best chance of becoming the Republican nominee and, just maybe, even President. In February, we at THCB asked Scottish-Canadian-Californian healthcare futurist Ian Morrison to conduct an interview with Trump, figuring that Morrison would have an in with Trump given Trump’s praise for Scottish and Canadian healthcare. Fittingly, that interview was published on THCB on President’s Day, February 16th. Since then Donald Trump has racked up impressive victories and more importantly has released some specifics of his healthcare proposal. THCB thought it was time for Morrison to reach out to Mr. Trump again–Matthew Holt

MORRISON: Thanks for making time Mr. Trump, it is a pleasure to have a chance to follow up with you.

TRUMP: You were a little rough on me last time, but I enjoyed it, I thought I did very well in the interview.

MORRISON: Indeed you did, it was incredible. Mr. Trump before we get to your healthcare plan, let’s just catch up on the race. Since we last talked you have had some impressive victories in a wide variety of states from Hawaii to Mississippi. Why do you think you have done so well?

TRUMP. I’m winning everywhere, everywhere, and with all the groups: vets, high income, low income (we love the low-income). I won Hispanics in Nevada? Hispanics, Trump? They like me because I am a winner, and I’m winning everywhere. I am winning by a lot.

MORRISON: You did particularly well in the South, the so called SEC primaries, where Ted Cruz was expected to do well, particularly with evangelicals. You won by more than 20 points in Alabama for example.

TRUMP: Well they loved me in South Carolina, I won big there and then I did the dog whistle to the Klan and that probably helped, in the South.

MORRISON: You mean being slow to disavow David Duke and the Klan before those southern primaries?

TRUMP: It worked well, we had hats ready: “Make America White Again” but Corey (Editor’s note–He’s referring to Corey Lewandowski Trump’s Campaign Manager who himself made news recently by manhandling a female reporter) told me it probably wouldn’t work in the General, but we trademarked them anyway, I couldn’t believe it was available, so we may use the “Make America White Again” hats later, we’ll see. But now I disavow, I disavow, how many times do I have to say it.

MORRISON: Mr. Trump are you a racist?

TRUMP: Look I told the New York Times Editorial Board the whole story on deep background. Republican primaries are about getting angry, white people to turn up. Those people are tired and angry at the Mexicans, the Muslims, and Obama (we still don’t know if he was born in Kenya). So when we win, we can be nicer in the general election, because I get along with everyone.

The Meme-ifcation of Health Care

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flying cadeuciiWhy can’t we have nice things? As a self-anointed health policy wonk, I find myself asking this question many times. It seems that every potentially transformative (to use a tired cliché) health care trend must eventually go through a process I’ll call “meme-ification.” And I’ll preface by saying that this applies across the political spectrum.

Take the hobby horse of many progressive reformers – single payer. If you’ve spent any time immersed in health care policy, you’ve probably heard it all: every other advanced country does it, insurance companies (and profits) are evil, health care can’t be a for-profit (evil) industry etcetera.

Of course, if you’ve spent any time immersed in health care policy you probably also understand that attempting to extrapolate lessons from the U.K. (relatively homogeneous, over 250 people per square kilometer, and about 1 homicide per 100,000) to the U.S. (about as diverse as you can imagine, about 35 people per square kilometer, and nearly five homicides per 100,000) is at best, an uphill battle.

What Trump’s Plan to Negotiate With Pharma Should Tell Us

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Donald Trump’s proposal to allow the federal Medicare program to negotiate prices with drug companies should be a wake-up call for the pharmaceutical industry.

Trump is leading in the polls for the Republican nomination and is even drawing the support of Tea Party conservatives who, just a year or two ago, never would have supported a candidate endorsing such strong government intervention into a private-sector industry.

Characteristically, Trump didn’t give a lot of detail about his plans. He claimed $300 billion in savings per year (about 10 times more than is realistic). But that doesn’t matter. If the leading GOP presidential candidate—a man who has proved masterful at reading the public mood and playing to it—has signed on to this idea, it proves that change has come.

I know that many veterans of the pharmaceutical industry think they have seen this horror movie before and know how it ends. There have been several past public furors over the price of prescription drugs, and each one gradually faded without major disruption for drugmakers. But this time feels different.

Not Quite DOA: Why Reports of the Demise of the President’s Budget May be Exaggerated

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Ceci ConnollyAnyone who has spent a few years in Washington knows the federal budget dance: President stands behind podium with a fancy seal and flags and unveils a giant tome. The next morning newspapers declare the tome DOA, Dead on Arrival. And we all return to regularly scheduled programming.

This year was no exception. Even the White House seemed to acknowledge the fact by releasing the 182-page blueprint on the same day as the Iowa caucuses with Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz grabbing the headlines.

But budget nuggets have a way of seeping into the policy fabric and eventually taking hold. Legislative staff scrub the document for ideas, not to mention numbers. Candidates steal liberally, adding favorites to their rhetorical arsenal. Eventually, some of those candidates become lawmakers, cabinet secretaries and even president. So the ideas live on.

Happily, President Obama chose his final budget proposal to draw attention to the inexplicable, indefensible rise in drug prices in this country. Our nonprofit, provider-sponsored plans know better than most the clinical value of so many of today’s medications. At ACHP, we have the privilege of partnering with organizations that are in pursuit of the 4Rs – the Right patients receive the Right treatments at the Right time for the Right price. From Capital Health Plan’s Center for Chronic Care, which reduces health costs for the entire community by providing concierge-type care for the sickest one percent of Capital members, to Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin’s pioneering initiative embedding pharmacists in primary care clinics to track patients who may need additional treatment management, ACHP members are working to ensure patients always receive the medications they need.

Cancer and the Politics of Moonshots

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As many of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates lament the high cost of healthcare and put forth how they aim to make it more cost effective, few have focused on the impact of out-of-pocket costs specifically for cancer patients. They should. One in every two men and one in every three women will get cancer at some point over their lifetime. As the U.S. population and American lifespans increase, this toll will have major financial ramification for everyone.

When fighting against the disease, cancer patients are often at the mercy of the pharmaceutical industry. Given Pfizer’s recent announcement that it plans to merge with Allergan, making it the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, many cancer patients are wondering what this will mean in terms of their cost of care. Pfizer, a giant in the cancer pharma space, already raised prices on 133 of its brand-name drugs last year, and they are not alone.  Big pharma has raised cancer drug prices up to 5000%. Recently ousted Turing CEO Martin Shkreli justified such hikes explaining, “I could have raised [prices] higher and made more profits for our shareholders, which is my primary duty.” The lack of focus on patients spawned outrage amongst patients, providers and even politicians, but the drug industry seems to be “in denial of the seriousness of its pricing problem.”

Granted, drug production takes years of research and can cost $350 million to get a single drug to market. Considering 95% of the experimental drugs will never see a pharmacy shelf, it might seem reasonable that the cost to patients is on the increase.  But contrary to the pharmaceutical industry’s claims, the cost of innovation is not the driver of drug prices. A study published in JAMA Oncology found that prices of cancer drugs are not tied to novelty nor to effectiveness, but rather set to what the market can bear. Here within lies the problem: if you’re a patient faced with a cancer diagnosis, wouldn’t you pay whatever the cost, no matter the price?