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Category: Health Policy

Careful What You Wish For: How Republican Attorneys General’s Attack on the ACA Could Trigger Medicare for All

By MIKE MAGEE

Cautionary tales are timeless. Take for example Aesop’s Fables, from 620 BC, which included the advisory, “Be careful what you wish for lest it come true.”

Trump and the Republicans who oppose the ACA take heed. You may be inadvertently taking the entire collusive Medical-Industrial Complex down a rabbit hole.

In the opening salvo to the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to be anxious for the fight.  Her view of Trump’s strategy? “The president is rushing to make some kind of a decision because … Nov. 10 is when the arguments begin on the Affordable Care Act…He doesn’t want to crush the virus. He wants to crush the Affordable Care Act.”

With no health plan replacement on the shelf, death star Republicans have been struggling to bury this ever more popular piece of legislation for ten years.

In the process, they’ve alienated not only those who believe health care is a right rather than a privilege, and those who support protections for pre-existing conditions, but also those against deceptive skimpy health insurance, those who believe transgender Americans deserve care guarantees, those who demand access to affordable drugs, those who have their under age 26 adult children covered on their family plan, those opposed to cuts in coverage of contraceptives, and those in favor of federal funding of Planned Parenthood clinics.

As Kaiser Health News Washington correspondent, Julie Rovner, recently wrote, “With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ACA’s future is in doubt.” In a case now known as California v. Texas, set for presentation to the Supreme Court in just a few weeks, 21 attorneys general (AGs) led by California are seeking clarity on a challenge by Texas led Republican AGs to declare the ACA unconstitutional based on a weak technicality.

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Will Trump, Congressional Infections Boost Innovations For Covid-19 Survivors?

By MICHAEL MILLENSON

When powerful politicians confront a life-threatening diagnosis, it can change policy priorities. 

In addition to President Trump and a slew of top aides, five U.S. senators and 15 members of the House of Representatives have now tested positive or been presumed positive in tests for Covid-19 as of Oct. 5, according to a running tally by National Public Radio (NPR).

In that light, the recent burst of coronavirus infections could accelerate three significant innovations affecting every Covid-19 survivor.

1) Post-Covid Clinics

Even seemingly mild encounters with the coronavirus can trigger a cascade of lingering health consequences. While “there is no consensus definition of post-acute Covid-19,” noted an Oct. 5 JAMA commentary, symptoms that have been reported include joint pain, chest pain, fatigue, labored breathing and organ dysfunction “involving primarily the heart, lungs and brain.”

A survey by Survivor Corps, a patient support group, and the Indiana University School of Medicine found that Covid “long haulers” often suffer from “painful symptoms…that some physicians are unable or unwilling to help patients manage.” A similar survey by the Body Politic Covid-19 Support Group concluded that Covid long-haulers face “stigma and lack of understanding [that] compromise access to health care and quality of support.”  

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A War on Science is a War on Us

By KIM BELLARD

We’re in the midst of a major U.S. election, as well as hearings on a Supreme Court vacancy, so people are thinking about litmus tests and single issue voters – the most typical of which is whether someone is “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”  Well, I’m a single issue person too; my litmus test is whether someone believes in evolution. 

I’m pro-science, and these are scary times.

Within the last week there have been editorials in Scientific American, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Nature – all respected, normally nonpartisan, scientific publications – taking the current Administration to task for its coronavirus response.   Each, in its own way, accuses the Administration of letting politics, not science, drive its response. 

SA urges voters to “think about voting to protect science instead of destroying it.”  They cite, among other examples, Columbia Law School’s Silencing Science Tracker, which “tracks government attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information, since the November 2016 election.”  Their count is over 450 by now, across a broad range of topics in numerous federal agencies on a variety of topics.   

The SA authors declare:

Science, built on facts and evidence-based analysis, is fundamental to a safe and fair America. Upholding science is not a Democratic or Republican issue.

Similarly, NEJM fears:

Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government,4 causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

Jeff Tollefson, in Nature, warns:

As he seeks re-election on 3 November, Trump’s actions in the face of COVID-19 are just one example of the damage he has inflicted on science and its institutions over the past four years, with repercussions for lives and livelihoods. 

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Value-based care – no progress since 1997?

By MATTHEW HOLT

Humana is out with a report saying that its Medicare Advantage members who are covered by value-based care (VBC) arrangements do better and cost less than either their Medicare Advantage members who aren’t or people in regular Medicare FFS. To us wonks this is motherhood, apple pie, etc, particularly as proportionately Humana is the insurer that relies the most on Medicare Advantage for its business and has one of the larger publicity machines behind its innovation group. Not to mention Humana has decent slugs of ownership of at-home doctors group Heal and the now publicly-traded capitated medical group Oak Street Health.

Humana has 4m Medicare advantage members with ~2/3rds of those in value-based care arrangements. The report has lots of data about how Humana makes everything better for those Medicare Advantage members and how VBC shows slightly better outcomes at a lower cost. But that wasn’t really what caught my eye. What did was their chart about how they pay their physicians/medical group

What it says on the surface is that of their Medicare Advantage members, 67% are in VBC arrangements. But that covers a wide range of different payment schemes. The 67% VBC schemes include:

  • Global capitation for everything 19%
  • Global cap for everything but not drugs 5%
  • FFS + care coordination payment + some shared savings 7%
  • FFS + some share savings 36%
  • FFS + some bonus 19%
  • FFS only 14%

What Humana doesn’t say is how much risk the middle group is at. Those are the 7% of PCP groups being paid “FFS + care coordination payment + some shared savings” and the 36% getting “FFS + some share savings.” My guess is not much. So they could have been put in the non-VBC group. But the interesting thing is the results.

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New Technologies Drive Cost Growth Over Time

By KEN TERRY

(This is the eighth and final installment in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

Medical technologies include drugs, devices, tests, and procedures. Considered as a whole, these technologies are the key driver of growth in health costs, according to Georgetown University professor Gregg Bloche and his associates.

Bloche, et al., view insurance coverage as the chief enabler of these technological innovations. In a 2017 Health Affairs Blog post, they said,Drug and device developers, clinical researchers, and their financial backers anticipate coverage for new tests and treatments with little concern for whether they add substantial therapeutic value, and they make research and development decisions accordingly.”

In an interview, Bloche further explained, “If you’re a technology developer, you can reasonably anticipate that if your product achieves a low but significant health gain, insurers are going to be under pressure to pay for it.”

Insurers do cover most new drugs, although they may make it difficult for patients to access the ones that they deem to be low-value, notes Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

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Obstacles to Value-Based Care Can Be Overcome

By KEN TERRY

(This is the seventh in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

Even in a healthcare system dedicated to value-based care, there would be a few major barriers to the kinds of waste reduction described in this book. First, there’s the ethical challenge: Physicians might be tempted to skimp on care when they have financial incentives to cut costs. Second, there’s a practical obstacle: Clinical guidelines are not infallible, and large parts of medicine have never been subjected to rigorous trials. Third, because of the many gaps in clinical knowledge, it can be difficult for physicians to distinguish between beneficial and non-beneficial care before they provide it.

Regarding the ethical dimension, insurance companies often are criticized when they deny coverage for what doctors and patients view as financial reasons. Physicians encounter this every day when they request prior authorization for a test, a drug, or a procedure that they believe could benefit their patient. But in groups that take financial risk, physicians themselves have incentives to limit the amount and types of care to what they think is necessary. In other words, they must balance their duty to the patient against their role as stewards of scarce healthcare resources.

On the other hand, fee-for-service payment motivates physicians to do more for patients, regardless of whether it’s necessary or not. In some cases, doctors may order tests or do procedures of questionable value to protect themselves against malpractice suits; but studies of defensive medicine have shown that it actually raises health costs by a fairly small percentage. More often, physicians overtreat patients because of individual practice patterns or because they practice in areas where that’s the standard of care. As long as doctors believe there’s a chance that the patient will benefit from low-value care, they can justify their decision to provide that care.

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Talking Politics in the Exam Room: A Physician’s Obligation to Discuss the Political Ramifications of Science with Patients

By HAYWARD ZWERLING

I walked into my exam room to see a patient I first met two decades ago. On presentation, his co-morbidities included poorly controlled DM-1, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and a substance abuse disorder. Over the years our healthcare system has served him well as he has remained free of diabetic complications and now leads a productive life. Watching this transformation has been both professionally rewarding, personally enjoyable, and I look forward to our periodic interactions.

At this visit, he was sporting a MAGA hat. I was confused. How can my patient, who has so clearly benefited from America’s healthcare system, support a politician who has tried to abolish the Affordable Care Act, used the bully pulpit to undermine America’s public health experts, refused to implement healthcare policies which would mitigate COVID-19’s morbidity and mortality, and who minimizes the severity of the coronavirus pandemic every day. Why does he support a politician whose healthcare policies are an immediate threat to his health and longevity?

My brain says, “You are the physician this patient trusts to take care of his medical problems. You must teach him that COVID-19 is a serious risk to his health and explain how the President’s public health policies threatens his health. You must engage in a political conversation.”

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Biden’s Nov 9th speech: “Don’t you force me to pass Medicare 4 All”

By MATTHEW HOLT

The new Supreme Court, in all likelihood including just nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett, will be hearing the California v Texas suit against the ACA on November 10th, seven days after the election. The lower courts have already ruled the ACA unconstitutional. Some hopeful moderates among my Democratic friends seem to believe that the justices will show cool heads, and not throw out the ACA. But it’s worth remembering that in the NFIB vs. Sebelius decision which confirmed the legitimacy of most of the ACA back in 2011 all the conservative justices with the exception of John Roberts voted to overturn the whole thing. With Ginsburg being replaced by Barrett there’s no reason to suppose that she won’t join Thomas, Alito, Kavanagh & Gorsuch and that Robert’s vote won’t be enough to stop them this time. The betting odds must be that the whole of the ACA will be overturned.

There is nothing the Democrats can realistically do to prevent Barrett filling RBG’s seat on the court, but assuming Biden wins and the Democrats take back the Senate, the incoming Administration can give the Supremes something to think about regarding the ACA. I would not suggest this level of confrontation before the election but, if Biden wins, the gloves must come off.

Assuming he wins and that the Dems win the Senate, this is the speech Biden should give on November 9th. (The TL:DR spoiler is, “Keep the ACA or I’ll extend Medicare to all ages”)

“I’m directing this speech to an extremely select number of people, just the Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republican Presidents. It is obviously no secret that we have political differences on many issues and we find ourselves in the strange situation in which I am the incoming President with an incoming Democratic Senate majority and yet you are considering overturning the signature bill of the administration in which I was Vice-President. You may recall that at the time of its signing I told President Obama that it was a “big f****** deal”  and, although many of my colleagues in the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party have criticized the ACA since its passage, it turns out that I was right. 

I am not referring here to the apoplexy that the ACA created amongst the Republican Party including not only the current and outgoing President but also almost all Republican members of Congress between 2010 and 2018. Instead I’m referring to the ACA’s impact on the nation and its health care system. 

Since 2010 there have been many changes to the way our nation’s health care system operates; almost all of them have their roots in the ACA. 

First, the ACA gave access to health insurance coverage to many people who had great trouble getting it before. That includes young people moving between their parent’s home, college and getting into the workforce; small business owners; freelance workers; the unemployed; people with low incomes; and people with underlying “pre-existing” health conditions. I remind you that due both to the pandemic and changes in our economy, there are many, many more of these people now than there were in 2009. 

Before the ACA these people were either not well served by the private health insurance industry or literally were unable to buy coverage at all. This not only caused extreme personal and financial suffering and in some cases death to the people affected, but also impacted the economy. It restrained innovation and entrepreneurship, and it meant that the participants in the health care system–including very many well meaning clinicians and provider organizations–had to play very inefficient games in order to try to provide those people with much-needed care, which drove up the cost of care to everyone else. Warren Buffet calls that the tapeworm in the US economy.

The ACA changed this in two main ways.

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Measuring the Effectiveness of Cost-of-Care Conversations

By NELLY GANESAN, JOSH SEIDMAN, MORENIKE AYOVAUGHAN, and RINA BARDIN

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Avalere assesses opportunities to normalize cost-of-care conversations through measurement.

Cost continues to pose a barrier to accessing healthcare for millions of Americans. Research has shown that conversations addressing costs among patients, caregivers, and the clinical team can help build a more trusted relationship between patients and clinicians.

Avalere has partnered with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) since 2015 to work toward normalizing cost-of-care (CoC) conversations in clinical settings, including identifying barriers and facilitators to engaging in conversations about cost. CoC conversations can be defined as discussions that address any costs patients and families might face, from out-of-pocket (OOP) to non-medical costs (e.g., transportation, childcare, lost wages). To that end, Avalere collaborated with the National Patient Advocate Foundation to explore the feasibility of patient-centered measure concepts to support quality improvement, increase satisfaction, and improve outcomes. This issue brief highlights the challenges associated with measurement in this space alongside alternative solutions to encourage CoC conversations in practice.

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Congress Is Getting the Transition to Alternative Payment Models Wrong

By TAYLOR CHRISTENSEN

Alternative payment models (APMs) are a hot topic these days, and everyone seems to agree that we need to transition toward them and away from fee for service (FFS). But how should we do it?

First, let’s think about this task as government policy makers would think about it.

They would probably start by saying, “We need to find a way to give incentives to providers and payers to try out these different APMs.” This would be fairly easy to do through Medicare, so they would create some Medicare APM programs and structure them in a way that makes the benefits of joining large enough that lots of providers will want to participate.

And for the sake of uniform provider incentives, they would also want to encourage private insurer-provider diads to start using APMs, preferably ones as similar to the Medicare APM programs as possible. And so they would probably have to offer private insurers and/or providers money to do so.

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