If the devil is in the details, we got the motherlode this past week as to how the most incendiary part of President Obama’s health reform will actually work when it launches next January.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued lengthy rules on the controversial individual mandate requiring uninsured Americans to purchase a health plan. The IRS followed with nearly as lengthy a set of rules specifying who is eligible for subsidies for those purchases and who pays penalties when they refuse. In what critics will consider an Orwellian flourish, both federal agencies refer to these penalties as “shared responsibility payments” — even though the Supreme Court, in its upholding of the mandate, plainly referred to them as what they are: a tax.
The two sets of rulings represent a sort of good cop, bad cop routine from the Obama administration. The bulk of the HHS rules defines individual outs for the mandate, identifying 11 different types of uninsured Americans who will be exempt from the de facto tax, ranging from sudden financial impairment to genuine religious objection to medical care. The IRS rules are all bright hard lines about who has to pay, when, and how.
The major media, echoing criticism by Obamacare’s agitators from the Left, seized on the stinginess of the IRS rules regarding subsidies and penalties for family members of people covered by their employers, or what they call the “family glitch.” The glitch is technically real, but statistically remote, and will affect almost no one in the real world, but it does make for good inflammatory headlines.
Continue reading “Life Support and Taxes”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, family glitch, Health insurance, Health Reform, HHS, Individual mandate, IRS, J.D. Kleinke, Obama administration, Taxes, The IRS rules
Feb 7, 2013
The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is now settled law.
It will be implemented. It will also have to be changed but not until after it is implemented and the required changes becomes obvious and unavoidable. We can all debate what those things will be (cost containment is on top of my list) but it doesn’t matter what we think will happen––time will tell.
There are and will be more lawsuits.
I wouldn’t waste a lot of time worrying about those. Anyone in the market will do better spending their time getting ready.
But, when will the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be implemented?
So far, only about 15 states say they want to implement health insurance exchanges. Some of those may not make the October 1, 2013 kick-off date.
Maybe now that it is clear the law will go forward, some of the conservative states who have said they would not build one will get into high gear rather than have the Obama administration do it for them. But they may not have enough time to be ready in less than eleven months.
The Obama administration says they will be ready on time with federal exchanges. But they have not been at all transparent about just what they have so far done and can get done in the eleven short months that remain.
Starting today, the big question is can the Obama administration really be ready or will the October 1 insurance exchange launch date have to be pushed back, at least in some states?
It’s time for some post-election transparency and honesty from the administration.
Continue reading “The 2012 Elections and 2013 — A Daunting To-Do List”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: 2012 Election, Affordable Care Act, cost containment, fiscal cliff, Health Insurance Exchanges, lawsuits, Medicaid Expansion, Obama administration, Obamacare, President Obama, Robert Laszewski, Washington
Nov 7, 2012
Massachusetts has a long track record of making headlines in the area of health care reform, whether or not Mitt Romney likes to talk about it.
In 2008, Massachusetts released results of its initiative requiring virtually all of its citizens to acquire health insurance. In short order, nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts’ 600,000 formerly uninsured acquired health insurance, most of them private insurance that did not run up the tab for taxpayers. The use of hospitals and emergency rooms for primary care fell dramatically, translating into an annual savings of nearly $70 million.
But that’s pocket change in the scheme of things, so the other shoe had to drop — and now it has. Massachusetts made news recently, this time for passing legislation that aims to impose a cap on overall health care spending. That ambition implies, even if it doesn’t quite manage to say, a very provocative word: rationing.
Health care rationing is something everyone loves to hate. Images of sweet, little old ladies being shoved out the doors of ERs that have met some quota readily populate our macabre fantasies.
But laying aside such melodrama, here is the stark reality: Health care is, always was, and always will be rationed. However much people hate the idea, it’s a fact, not a choice. The only choice we have is to ration it rationally, or irrationally. At present, we ration it — and everything it affects — irrationally.
Continue reading “Rational Rationing vs. Irrational Rationing”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Acute Care, Affordable Care Act, chronic disease, Concierge Service, David Katz, ER, Malignant Melanoma, Massachusetts, MD, Obama administration, prevention, Pulmonary Embolism, Rationing, The States, the uninsured, U.S. health spending
Sep 13, 2012
The Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the Affordable Care Act will trigger a political firestorm whether they accept the legislation in its entirety, throw out every page of the 906-page bill or do something in between, which is the most likely outcome.
If the high court follows the polls, it probably will rule the requirement that individuals purchase insurance – the mandate – is unconstitutional but leave the rest of “Obamacare” intact. A CBS/New York Times poll released earlier this month showed that 41 percent wanted the entire law overturned, 24 percent supported it fully and 27 percent supported it but wanted the mandate eliminated.
Pooling the latter two groups suggests there is majority support for the coverage expansion, insurance protections and delivery system reforms contained in the bill – as long as there is no mandate. It was only the Obama administration’s decision to include the requirement that individuals purchase health coverage – something done to win insurance industry backing for the law – that gave opponents the cudgel they needed to stoke widespread opposition to reform.
The insurance industry, recognizing many of the reforms are popular, is already preparing for a thumbs-down ruling on the mandate. Three major carriers, UnitedHealth, Aetna and Cigna, said last week they would continue to allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, pay for 100 percent of preventive services and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage, reforms from the ACA that are already in place.
Continue reading “Why Reform Will Survive Mandate’s Fall”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: 2012 Election, AHIP, ER, Individual mandate, Insurance industry, Merrill Goozner, Mitt Romney, Obama administration, Obamacare, The Supreme Court Challenge
Jun 21, 2012
“The only constant in health care is change.”
It’s one of those clichés peddled at health care industry conferences by consultants who charge by the hour for helping attendees brace their organizations for all those terrifying changes just over the horizon. Not only is this cliche not true, but it is exactly untrue. The only constant in health care is gnawing anxiety about change that never actually occurs.
The Obama Administration’s health care reform plan – we can all call it “ObamaCare” now that the Administration finally owns the label it should have from the outset – is the motherlode of anxiety over change about to storm through the health care system. That is, unless you happen to cover your ears and block out all the partisan screaming, along with the political ideology dressed as legal arguments in the Supreme Court this week, and look at the actual plan and its numbers.
Yes, ObamaCare is expected to cram 30 million uninsured people into the current non-system. Complementary elements of the law make it illegal for health insurers to kick any of us out if we get too sick or stop paying our bills if we get too expensive. And if an insurer makes too much money in the process, it needs to refund a portion. Aside from these four economically intertwined health insurance market reforms, most everything else about ObamaCare is business as usual.
Continue reading “ObamaCare and the End of Nothing”
Filed Under: The Business of Health Care
Tagged: 2012 Election, ACOs, Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Obama administration, Obamacare, The Business of Medicine
Jun 20, 2012
Just over two years ago, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law purported to increase access to health care and to “bend down” the health care cost curve. A great debate over the implications of that law, especially in the areas of coverage, affordability, and quality of care, has arisen. Furthermore, a series of political and legal challenges have generated uncertainty about the law’s prospects within the health industry and at the state level. Despite this, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already issued over 12,000 pages of regulations elaborating on the original 2,700-page law, leading to more uncertainty regarding how appointed and career federal officials will determine the exact shape of the law’s final requirements. All of this uncertainty raises real concerns about how the new law will impact the most crucial actors in any health care reform effort: doctors.
Doctors are demonstrably nervous about the new law and how it will affect their incomes, their access to technologies, and their professional autonomy. According to a survey by the Doctors Company, 60 percent of physicians are concerned that the new law will negatively impact patient care. Only 22 percent are optimistic about the law’s impact on patient care. Fifty-one percent feel that the law will negatively impact their relationships with patients. These statistics raise questions about how and whether doctors will participate in the new system.
Continue reading “How The Affordable Care Act Will Affect Doctors”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, CMS, cost curve, Doctors Company, HHS, IPAB, Obama administration, Patient Care, Physician Shortage, reimbursement rates, SGR
Jun 15, 2012
Last week I found my usually-diverse Twitter feed had coalesced into a single hashtag, the trolley buses chugging through the streets of Washington, D.C. were sporting bold logos on their sides, and all around the city people were wearing giant nametags bearing their name, face, and three things they liked to talk about. There was no mistaking it: TEDMED was in town.
For the world of health care, TEDMED was the only party at which to see and be seen. The thousand or so delegates had been specifically “curated” to encapsulate the epitome of health care innovation. For 3.5 days they basked in cutting-edge, quirky talks by people “shaping and creating the future of health and medicine,” punctuated by lavish dinners and parties, TEDMED-themed M&Ms, and morning runs, as sanctioned by the Cookie Monster (one of the celebrity speakers at this extravaganza). Meanwhile, the rest of the medical world followed the #TEDMED hashtag on Twitter or soaked up the inspiration in real time at one of TEDMED’s mostly academic simulcast venues around the U.S.
And as for me? I threw myself into getting invited to the cool kids’ party. Or to be more accurate, the cool, privileged kids’ party. Because as well as being accepted on merit, attending TEDMED in person costs an eye-watering $4,950. A wealth of sponsors paid for 200 people to attend on scholarships (and for the Simulcasts), but by the time I’d realized this and persuaded them of my innovative brilliance, they’d already allocated their funds and I was consigned to their priority waiting list. But at the last minute, delightfully, my persistence and anticipation were rewarded with a pass for the Thursday night party and the final Friday morning session.
Continue reading “How TEDMED ‘Groupinspire’ Could Change the World”
Filed Under: TedMed
Tagged: CMS, Entreprenuership, Groupinspire, Innovation, Obama administration, TEDMED
Apr 25, 2012
In politics, a month is a lifetime, and 7 months is an eternity. It’s four months from now to late June when the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the health law, and it’s several months until the election.
No one knows what will happen between now and the election. But whatever occurs, it will be a psychological and political time.
Democrats will put on a brave face. They will say it’s not over until it’s over, that the individual mandate was originally a Republican and Romney idea, that the justices will come to their senses, that this is a moral not a constitutional issue.
Republicans will say that the health law is a train wreck, that it was rooted in ego and arrogance of an overly ambitious president, that Democrats poisoned the whole politics process by completely ignoring the other party and the American public, and that the whole idea of individual and Medicaid mandates is toast.
If they are smart, and there is no guarantee of that, the GOP will issue a detailed alternative plan resting on incremental market reforms with proper government oversight.
“Inaction “ on Massive Scale
Over the next seven months, we are likely to have “inaction,” if I may borrow a term from the hearings, on a massive scale.
Continue reading “The Long Road From March to November”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: 2012 Election, HIT, Mitt Romney, Obama administration, The Supreme Court Challenge
Mar 29, 2012
With the US economy dragging itself to its feet, the housing and stock markets crawling back, and the Republican presidential candidates (and their nationally syndicated Falstaff) doing everything imaginable to alienate most American women, President Obama has been having quite a run of good luck. But there is one piece of good news clearly not welcome around the White House: new data showing that health care costs are stabilizing.
I know, I know – this is health care, costs are always out of control, and the sky is always falling. What could I possibly be talking about?
I’m talking about the actual numbers. The accompanying graphs reveal that health spending has actually been stabilizing for several years, and the system we all love to hate is finally re-entering the economy’s normal orbit after three decades of skyrocketing growth.
This of course is hardly a cause for celebration around the Obama Administration, for obvious political reasons. Why else would economists from the same department tasked with implementing health reform choose to tell us that this long-awaited good news is actually – well – bad news.
Huh? In both graphs below, newly released data through 2010 show that health spending over the past several years has been normalizing to the rate of overall inflation rather than outpacing it – or grossly outpacing it – as has been the case, nearly without interruption, since the 1970s.
Continue reading “It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid!”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: 2012 Election, Affordable Care Act, Costs, J.D. Kleinke, Obama administration
Mar 8, 2012
Cynics say Washington is the city where good ideas go to die. A promising strategy for holding down health care costs in the Obama administration’s reform bill – providing patients and doctors with authoritative information on what works best in health care – should provide a classic test of that proposition, assuming the law survives the next election.
Experts estimate anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the health care that Americans receive is wasted. It is either ineffective or does more harm than good. To put that in perspective, waste costs anywhere from $250 billion and $750 billion a year, or as much as three-fourths of the annual federal deficit.
Yet every effort to curb wasteful spending (health care fraud, though pervasive, is estimated at less than a quarter of the total) has come up short. Neither Medicare and Medicaid’s efforts at government price controls nor the insurance industry’s efforts at managing care has succeeded in stopping health care spending from rising at twice the rate of the overall economy. Only the recent deep recession curbed costs, and that was because people lost their insurance when they lost their jobs and stopped going to the doctor. The bill for that postponed maintenance isn’t in yet.
For over a decade, the health policy world has held out comparative effectiveness research – comparing competing approaches to treating disease – as one possible solution to eliminating waste in the health care delivery system. If only doctors and patients knew what worked best, knew what worked less well than advertised, and knew what didn’t work at all, they would, through better-informed choices, gradually eliminate much of the waste in the system.
Continue reading “PCORI Paddles the Potomac”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, CER, Obama administration, Otis Brawley, PCORI, Sen. Charles Grassley, spending waste
Feb 29, 2012