NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

President Obama

Henry David Thoreau said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

We have hacked at healthcare costs for what seems like thousands of times, with very limited success. It is time to strike at the root. Rather than focus on reducing costs after preventable diseases have taken hold, it is time to focus attention on eliminating the disease.

Let us look at two specific examples.

1. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has estimated that the cost of smoking(estimated cost of smoking-related medical expenses and loss of productivity) exceeds $167 billion annually. The CDC has also estimated that 326 billion cigarettes (combustible tobacco, to be more precise) went up in smoke in 2011. In other words, every cigarette consumed costs the nation about 50 cents; every pack, $10.

Put another way, while the smoker paid approximately $5 a pack up front, there was also an additional $10 secret surcharge — the cost of which is born by all of us (such as taxpayers, anyone who buys health insurance, even private companies who suffer from lower productivity as a result). It is as if we are telling the smoker, “I know you can’t afford to pay $15 for a pack. So we will give you $10 so you can afford to smoke.” We are not this generous even with people who don’t have one square meal a day. We spent $78 billion on food stamps, with constant pressure to bring that down further even if some people will be left without food as a result.

Continue reading “Cigarettes Should Cost $25 a Pack”

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President Obama has won reelection, and his administration has asked state officials to decide by Friday, November 16, whether their state will create one of Obamacare’s health-insurance “exchanges.” States also have to decide whether to implement the law’s massive expansion of Medicaid. The correct answer to both questions remains a resounding no.

State-created exchanges mean higher taxes, fewer jobs, and less protection of religious freedom. States are better off defaulting to a federal exchange. The Medicaid expansion is likewise too costly and risky a proposition. Republican Governors Association chairman Bob McDonnell (R.,Va.) agrees, and has announced that Virginia will implement neither provision.

There are many arguments against creating exchanges.

First, states are under no obligation to create one.

Second, operating an Obamacare exchange would be illegal in 14 states. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have enacted either statutes or constitutional amendments (or both) forbidding state employees to participate in an essential exchange function: implementing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates.

Third, each exchange would cost its state an estimated $10 million to $100 million per year, necessitating tax increases.

Fourth, the November 16 deadline is no more real than the “deadlines” for implementing REAL ID, which have been pushed back repeatedly since 2008.

Fifth, states can always create an exchange later if they choose.

Sixth, a state-created exchange is not a state-controlled exchange. All exchanges will be controlled by Washington.

Continue reading “Obamacare Is Still Vulnerable”

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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”

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Although members of the Obama team are now celebrating their election victory, the next four years will not be smooth sailing. Ignoring the campaign rhetoric, there is still much more work to be done in order to reshape our health care system; the effect on academic medical centers and teaching hospitals will be significant.

The political conscience is still being driven by the fear of the fiscal cliff, which dominates most Washington conversations. Both political parties agree that health care is a significant contributor to our present and future deficit and that we have to figure out how to deliver more care at a lower cost. But, they argue about what to call it, who gets credit, and whether the solution is bigger government involvement or a dominant private market?The potential cuts to NIH funding and graduate medical education support do not go away with another four Obama years. We anticipate that the president will reform the tax code and transform how we deliver health care. The latter will be his lasting legacy.

However, in all this chaos, there are opportunities. While we no longer hope for a bipartisan middle ground on health care — and rancor will certainly escalate if President Obama is reelected — to many people, the Affordable Care Act is starting to look like a tangible business opportunity. Every insurer is looking at the 30 million uninsured people who will receive coverage through a mix of subsidized private insurance for middle-class households and expanded Medicaid for low-income people. These new markets could be worth $50 billion to $60 billion in premiums in 2014, and as much as $230 billion annually within seven years. The structure and implementation of these programs present specific challenges for AMCs.

Continue reading “The Future of Health Care in Obama’s Second Term”

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In tonight’s first presidential debate, Governor Romney and President Obama will spend 15 minutes discussing healthcare. This is a perilous topic for both, but whoever wins this debate within the debate will take a big step to winning on November 6th.

The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare as both candidates now call it, will be center stage. The president will offer his standard defense, saying it helps middle-class families by making insurance more affordable and more secure.

But the president knows a full-throated defense will not work. A majority of Americans have consistently supported repeal since day one.

Rather than defend the indefensible – higher costs, higher taxes, Medicare cuts, government expansion – the president will attack.

First, he will tie together ObamaCare and the reform law Gov. Romney signed in Massachusetts, arguing that they are the same.

Gov. Romney should stipulate that there are some policy similarities between the two, but that the differences are what matter. He can deflect this attack and return the spotlight to the president’s unpopular law by clearly saying:

“I did not raise taxes. You raise taxes by $500 billion.

“I did not cut Medicare. You cut Medicare by more than $700 billion to pay for a new entitlement that the public opposed. Your cuts jeopardize seniors’ access to care.

Continue reading “The Health Care Debate Within the Debate”

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Let’s take a look at Mitt Romney’s Health Care plan using his own outline (“Mitt’s Plan”) on his website.

Romney’s approach to health care reform summarized:

  • “Kill Obamacare” – There seems to be no chance Romney would try to fix the Affordable Care Act––he would repeal all of it.
  • No new federal health insurance reform law – There is no indication from his policy outline that he would try to replace the health care reform law for those under age-65 (“Obamacare”) with a new federal law–his emphasis would be on making it easier for the states to tackle the issue as he did in Massachusetts.
  • Small incremental steps – His approach for health insurance reform for those under age-65 relies on relatively small incremental market ideas when compared to the Democrats big Affordable Care Act–tort reform, association purchasing pools, insurance portability, more information technology, greater tax deductibility of insurance, purchasing insurance across state lines, more HSA flexibility.
  • Getting the federal government out of the Medicaid program – He would fundamentally change Medicaid by putting the states entirely in control of it and capping the annual federal contribution–”block-granting.”
  • Big changes for Medicare – Romney offers a fundamental reform for Medicare beginning for those who retire in ten years by creating a more robust private Medicare market and giving seniors a defined contribution premium support to pay for it.

Continue reading “Obama vs. Romney: A Detailed Analysis of Mitt Romney’s Health Care Reform Plan”

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Since 2010, when the Affordability Care Act was signed into law, the American mainstream media has insisted that President Obama’s bill provides the most at-risk Americans, low income families and seniors, with better health care. And that must mean, by any logic, better access to doctors, more access to the modern tools of diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately better health outcomes. That poor Americans benefit greatly from the ACA, and that seniors will be more secure under the president’s law, has seemed so obvious to the left-leaning news outlets that this fact has yet to be critically examined by them.

President Obama’s ACA law purports to provide new health coverage to upwards of 16 million low income Americans by way of Medicaid. We already see in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that many, if not most, states simply cannot be burdened with massive increases in their Medicaid outlays, regardless of the promise of financial support from the federal government (itself a financially unsustainable funding source).

But President Obama’s assertion about new insurance for the poor and all it brings is, in fact, a grand deception. We know that 55 percent of primary care physicians and obstetricians already refuse all or most new Medicaid patients (about four times the percentage that refuse new private insurance patients), and only half of specialist doctors accept most new Medicaid patients. Clearly, granting poor people Medicaid is not equivalent to providing access to doctors.

Continue reading “The Moral Case for Romneycare 2.0″

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I’ve never seen a week in health care policy like last week. The media reports have to be in the thousands, all trying to make sense of the furious debate between Obama and Romney over Medicare.

As someone who has studied this issue for more than 20 years, it has also been more than exasperating for me to watch each side trade claims and for the press to try to make sense of it.

This blog post is quite long because the subject matter is complicated. If you want to cut to the chase, see my conclusion and summary at the end of this post.

Allow me to list a few of the questions people are asking and give you my take on it.

Will current seniors suffer under the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan?

No. Let me start by saying something that will likely surprise you. If I could be king for a day, I would prohibit anyone over the age of 60 from voting in this election. This election is really about the future and the big decisions on the table are about the long-term government spending and entitlement issues that should be made by younger voters who will have to pay for them and will benefit or suffer from them.

Those in their 60s and older are almost surely going to cruise to the end with the benefits they now have.

Whether its Obama’s Medicare plan, based heavily on the Medicare cost control board imbedded in his health reform bill (which doesn’t begin to impact hospital costs until 2020), or the Romney/Ryan Medicare premium support plan (that has no effect on anyone now over the age of 55), today’s seniors’ benefits are insulated from this issue.

Continue reading “All Hell Hath Broken Loose”

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Us and Them
And after all we’re only ordinary men

The wanna-be congressman appeared with his neat hair and pressed suit, a competent yet compassionate expression on his face.  ”The first thing I am going to do when I get to congress is to work to repeal Obamacare,” he said, expression growing subtly angry.  ”I will do everything I can to give you back the care you need from those who think big government is the solution to every problem.”

My wife grabbed my arm, restraining me from throwing the nearest object at the television.  I cursed under my breath.

No, it’s not my liberal ideology that made me react this way; I’ve had a similar reaction to ads by democrats who demonize republicans as uncaring religious zealots who want corporations to run society.  I am a “flaming moderate,” which means that I get to sneer at the lunacy on both sides of the political aisle. I grew up surrounded by conservative ideas, and probably still lean a bit more that direction than to the left, but my direction has been away from there to a comfortable place in the middle.

It’s not the ideology that bugs me, it’s the use of the “us and them” approach to problem solving.  If only we could get rid of the bad people, we could make everything work.  If only those people weren’t oppressing us.  If only those people weren’t so lazy.  It’s the radical religious people who are the problem.  It’s the liberal atheists.  It’s the corporations.  It’s the government.  All of this makes the problem into something that isn’t the fault of the person making the accusation, conveniently taking the heat off of them for coming up with solutions to the problems.

Continue reading “Us and Them-Ism”

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New York Times reporter Abby Goodnough’s piece last week about the health insurance exchange in Massachusetts is instructive—especially since other states are trying to set up their own versions of these shopping bazaars where the uninsured can buy coverage if the health reform law eventually takes effect. For the last three years we have been suggesting there’s an untold story in the Bay State about how the law is working, so we were glad to see Goodnough’s reporting and offer a tip of the hat.

Goodnough gets into the subject with a success story: the tale of Peter Kim, who lost his employer-sponsored health insurance in 2005 when he opted for a career as an independent consultant. He found that shopping for insurance in the open market was a complicated affair, and that most plans were too expensive. He eventually chose coverage for catastrophic illness.

Then he discovered his state’s health insurance exchange, called the Connector. After just an hour of research, he found a plan with a monthly premium of only $1,086, a better deal than the coverage he previously had. And ideally, that’s how exchanges should work, Goodnough said.

The trouble, she reports, is that so far the Connector has not drawn enough full-paying customers like Peter Kim.

As Goodnough notes, the exchanges have drawn little journalistic scrutiny so far, despite their key place in health reform. (And, we note, despite the fact that they grew out of initiatives backed by former Massachusetts governor and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.)

Continue reading “The Brave New World (of Health Insurance Exchanges)”

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MASTHEAD


Matthew Holt
Founder & Publisher

John Irvine
Executive Editor

Jonathan Halvorson
Editor

Alex Epstein
Director of Digital Media

Munia Mitra, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Vikram Khanna
Editor-At-Large, Wellness

Maithri Vangala
Associate Editor

Michael Millenson
Contributing Editor










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