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Biden Should Extend a “Public Option” as a Message to “Health Care Royalists”

By MIKE MAGEE

In this world of political theatrics, with Democratic legislators from Texas forced into exodus to preserve voters’ rights, and Tucker Carlson rantings about Rep. Eric Swalwell riding shirtless on a camel in Qatar streaming relentlessly, Americans can be excused if they missed a substantive and historic news event last week.

On Friday, July 9th, President Biden signed a far-reaching executive order intended to fuel social and economic reform, and in the process created a potential super-highway sized corridor for programs like universal healthcare. In the President’s view, the enemy of the common man in pursuit of a “fair deal” is not lack of competition but “favoritism.”

To understand the far-reaching implications of this subtle shift in emphasis, let’s review a bit of history. It is easy to forget that this nation was the byproduct of British induced tyranny and economic favoritism. In 1773, citizens of Boston decided they had had enough, and dumped a shipment of tea, owned by the British East India Company, into the Boston Harbor. This action was more an act of practical necessity than politics. The company was simply one of many “favorites” (organizations and individuals) that “got along by going along” with their British controllers.  In lacking a free hand to compete in a free market, the horizons for our budding patriots and their families were indefinitely curtailed.

Large power differentials not only threatened them as individuals but also the proper functioning of the new representative government that would emerge after the American Revolution. Let’s recall that only white male property owners over 21(excluding Catholics and Jews) had the right to vote at our nation’s inception.

Over the following two centuries, power imbalances have taken on a number of forms. For example, during the industrial revolution, corporate mega-powers earned the designation “trusts”, and the enmity of legislators like Senator John Sherman of Ohio, who as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, led the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

He defined a “trust” as a group of businesses that collude or merge to form a monopoly. To Sen. Sherman, J.D. Rockefeller, the head of Standard Oil, was no better than a monarch. “If we will not endure a king as political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life”, he said.   The law itself stated “[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”

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“Necessitous Men Are Not Free Men” – Words to Remember

By MIKE MAGEE

In the second half of the 19th century, Emily Dickinson wrote a short poem that could easily have been a forward looking tribute to two American Presidents – one from the 20th, the other the 21st century.

Dickinson’s poem “A WORD is dead” is hardly longer than its title.

“A WORD is dead

When it is said,

  Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

  That day.”

She certainly was on the mark when it came to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature legislation. FDR’s New Deal, extending from 1933 to 1939, ultimately came down to just three words – the 3R’s – Relief , Recovery, and Reform.

He promised “Action, and action now!”  This included a series of programs, infrastructure projects, financial reforms, a national health care program and industry regulations, protecting those he saw as particularly vulnerable including farmers, unemployed, children and the elderly.  And he wasn’t afraid to make enemies. Of Big Business, he said in a 1936 speech in Madison Square Garden, “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

But he was also a political realist. And by his second term of office Justice Hughes and his Conservative dominated Supreme Court had begun to undermine his legislative successes and were threatening his signature bill- the Social Security Act. So FDR compromised, and in the face of withering criticism from the AMA, postponed his plans for national health care.

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Time to Reboot “Medicare-For-All”

By MIKE MAGEE

In the fog of the Covid pandemic, many are wondering what ever happened to prior vocal support for universal coverage and Medicare-for-All. Expect those issues to regain prominence in the coming months. A bit of recent history helps explain why.

The January 6th insurrection, followed by the past weeks two mass shootings, have served to remind our citizens that we must address a range of issues while continuing to confront the pandemic threat.

Modern civilized societies rely on a double-armed approach to maintain order, peace and security. The first arm is laws. But laws are of little value without even and unbiased enforcement.

The second guardrail of civility is culture. MIT professor Edgar Schein described it this way: “Culture has three layers: the artifacts of a culture — our symbols and signs; its espoused values — the things we say we believe; and, most important, its underlying assumptions — the way things really are.”

In the Senate chamber this week, and in Republican controlled state houses across the nation, Americans witnessed a colossal collision of reality and ideals in the form of new Jim Crow laws to suppress minority voting rights, and refusal to address gun violence.  In the wake of a constant stream of racial animus and mass shootings, this lethal epidemic demands a response as well.

Were these the only flashing alerts signaling danger ahead, that would be enough to cause sleepless nights. But unenforced or unevenly enforced laws, and value dissonance in America, do not occur in isolation, but are supported by an even more erosive underpinning – greed-induced economic inequality.

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Wiping the Sleep From Our Eyes: The Pandemic Plan Trump Ignored

By MIKE MAGEE

When awakening from a long sleep, there is a transition period, when the brain struggles momentarily to become oriented, to “think straight.” When the sleep has extended four years, as with the Trump reign, it takes longer to clear the sleepy lies from your eyes.

We are emerging, but it will take time and guidance. This week President Biden and our First Lady showed us the way. As we together observed the startling passage of a half million dead, many needlessly, from the pandemic, the President gave us a crash course on grief. He compared it to entering a “black hole”, and acknowledged that whether you “held the hand” as your loved one passed on, or were unable (by logistics or regulation) to be there to offer comfort, time would heal. “You have to believe me, honey!”, as he is so prone to say.

As important, we saw the First Lady, without fanfare or concious need for attention, at one moment, draw close to him, as she sensed that he was about to be overcome by his own sadness, and place her hand simply on his back, patting him gently, knowing that this was enough to get him through. She, by then, had done this many times before.

And we saw the Vice President and her husband, across from the first couple, there only for support. This was neither a speaking role or super-ceremonial. It was humble. It was supportive. It was human, and far away from a predecessor who for four years had to fawn, and lie, and grovel to satisfy his Commander-in-Chief.

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Saints, Sinners, & the Spirituality of the SPAC Church | Politics, Policy, Power

By EMILY EVANS

Takeaway: Policy changes have overtaken many health care SPACs but that won’t stop a lot of telegenic advocates; something is sure to go wrong.

Politics. Something is sure to go wrong.

Over 400 SPACs have formed and about 100 business combinations announced. At least as far as health care goes, excluding biotech and pharma, the quality of the business combinations has thus far been uninspiring.

Deerfield’s CareMax/IMC Medical, Jaws’ Cano Health are focused on the very crowded Medicare Advantage market just as demographic realities require attention to shift toward younger people. Falcon’s ShareCare, GigCapital2’s Uphealth/Cloudbreak, Hudson’s Talkspace are yet more digital platforms to manage care. VG’s 23andMe wants to monetize all the genetic data it has collected through drug development.

Absent durable business models that address the core challenges of health care such as price, efficiency and quality, SPACs seem to be relying on charismatic personalities to win over investors, great and small, regardless of their experience or credibility. So much so, Twitter entreaties from Chamath Palihapitiya’s fan-base have taken on the tone of religious followers. “@chamath give @Clover_Health some love on Valentine’s Day what’s your position are you optimistic, excited, hopeful of its future? We would love to hear from you…”

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We’re Ready for Mamala

By DEB GORDON and ROSEMARIE DAY

With the long-awaited inauguration day behind us, America is finally getting something we desperately need: an elected woman in the White House.

On the heels of chaos and violence at the Capitol and after four years of the Trump Administration, we are ready for strong female leadership in the executive branch to help put the country on the right course. In fact, it is long overdue.

Kamala Harris didn’t just need our votes to make history as America’s first female Vice President. To be successful, she’ll need every ounce of our ongoing support as she steels herself to direct threats to her life and faces the challenge, along with President-elect Biden, of healing a deeply fractured nation.

Female leaders around the world have modeled that strong leadership through 2020’s most difficult times. Women have led some of the most effective pandemic responses worldwide. Countries led by women leaders had six times fewer confirmed COVID-19 deaths — and fewer days with confirmed deaths — than countries led by men. New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, and Iceland — all led by women — are among the coronavirus management success stories.

These women acknowledged the threat from coronavirus rather than underplaying it. They were decisive, and used data and science to drive their decision-making. They took a long-view when designing their response, prioritizing long-term well-being over short-term economic pain. They listened to outside voices to ensure they had the best possible input and solutions for their countries. And they showed empathy. Having a female leader became a symbol of inclusive, open-minded, effective leadership.

And the world took notice, lauding leaders like Jacinda Ardern, who was rewarded with a decisive victory in New Zealand’s October national elections.

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The Cost of Free Speech

By KIM BELLARD

Well, you’d have to say that the past week has been interesting.  It’s not every week that Joe Biden “officially” won the 2021 election, again, as Congress certified the election results.  It’s not every century when the U.S. Capitol is overrun by hostile forces.  And it’d never been true before that Twitter and Facebook banned President Trump’s accounts, or that various tech companies belatedly acted on the threat that Parler poses.  Oh, and we hit new daily records for COVID-19 deaths (over 4,000) and hospitalizations (over 132,000) in case you’d forgotten there is still a pandemic going on. 

Yes, all in all, a very “interesting” week.

I’m going to skip talking about the horror that was the Capitol insurrection, in part because I fear that we’re going to find out more details that will make it clear that it was even worse than we now know.  Similarly, I’m not going to dwell on the shame that Republicans should feel about the fact that two-thirds of their House members still voted to object to certifying the election results even after they’d been forced to flee from the terrorists who sought that very goal with their violence.

Instead, let’s talk about “free speech,” and the social media platforms that helped foster the violence and are now trying to do something about that. 

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Evaluating President-Elect Biden’s Healthcare Plan | Part 1

By TAYLOR J. CHRISTENSEN

Without the full support of congress behind him, President-Elect Joe Biden will probably not have an opportunity to sign any major system-altering healthcare legislation. But, if Democrats can gain a majority in the senate–either this election cycle or next—healthcare reform will be high on the agenda. Let’s take a critical look at what Joe Biden would push to accomplish.

For this evaluation, I am relying solely on information that Joe Biden has committed to on his official campaign website. He has many pages talking about a variety healthcare issues, such as the pandemic, gun violence, and the opioid epidemic. But the main page that reviews his plans for the healthcare system as a whole is here. Consider giving it a read through first, because what follows will only be summarizing and evaluating the key big-picture components of his plan.

Joe Biden is not pushing for Medicare for All. He instead wants to keep the Affordable Care Act (i.e., the ACA, or “Obamacare”) and fix the parts of it that are not working so well. To understand the rationale of his proposed changes, we first need to review where we are at now with the ACA.

There are many parts to the ACA, but its main thrust was to increase insurance coverage. What kind of numbers are we working with? Below are some 2019 data, rounded for simplicity. And note that I am excluding the 60,000,000 people who are over age 65 and therefore on Medicare.

The under-age-65 people fall into one of four insurance groups . . .

Employer-sponsored insurance (160,000,000 people) if they are lucky enough to work for an employer that provides benefits.

Medicaid (70,000,000 people) if their income is low enough to qualify.

Private insurance from the “private market” (10,000,000 people) if they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and do not have an employer that provides benefits.

Uninsured (30,000,000 people) if they do not get insurance from their employer, their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, and they do not want to pay for insurance from the private market.

Remember, those are from 2019, so they are post-ACA numbers. Prior to the implementation of the ACA, the uninsured number hovered around 45,000,000 people. What did it do to reduce the number of uninsured people? There were many ways, but here are the two biggest ways:

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In Praise of Unsung Heroes

By KIM BELLARD

Even in this extraordinary year, this has been an extraordinary week.  Last Tuesday we had what many believe to have been the most important Presidential election in recent times, maybe ever.  The week also found the coronavirus pandemic reaching new heights.  That was the week that was.

What struck me, though, is how both our election systems and our healthcare system rely on “ordinary” people to keep them going.  They’ve never been more extraordinary than this year.

The pandemic first impacted voting earlier in the year, during primary season.  Going to the polls suddenly seemed like potentially a life-threatening choice, and working at them practically suicidal.  Dates of primaries were moved, many polling stations were closed, new voting procedures were put into place, and absentee ballots found a new popularity.  And yet people turned out in droves to vote, often standing in line for hours.

President Trump upped the ante by constantly railing against absentee ballots and warning about voter fraud.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, record numbers of people voted early, in person or by mail.  Several states had surpassed 2016 numbers of voters before Election Day.   Tens of millions more showed up on Election Day.  And, amazingly, Election Day passed with relatively few incidents.

Then the counting started. 

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What Will Shape Joe Biden’s Health Care Agenda?

I’m thrilled to have health futurist Jeff Goldsmith back on THCB, and given Biden was only confirmed as President-elect this morning, his article on what to expect is extremely timely!–Matthew Holt

By  JEFF GOLDSMITH

The Trump administration’s health care journey began with a trillion dollar near miss–the failed Repeal and Replacement of ObamaCare- and ended with a full-on train wreck, the catastrophically mismanaged COVID epidemic that will have claimed 300,000 lives by the time he leaves office. After four years of posturing and lethal incompetence, it will be a relief to see caring and professionalism return to the White House health policy under President-Elect Joe Biden.   

Like Inheriting a Badly Managed World War

Like Barack Obama, Joe Biden will be saddled at the beginning of his regime with a damaged national economy. He will also walk in the door to the immediate need to manage the greatest public health catastrophe in a century as well as its economic consequences–a deep and enduring recession. Biden will be inheriting the equivalent of a badly managed World War we are presently losing.

Public health professionals who were marginalized by Trump will be challenged not only to craft coherent policy to contain and extinguish COVID  but also to sell it to a frightened and polarized general public, many of whom reject the need for basic public safety measures.    

Controlling COVID and rebuilding the critical public health agencies–CDC and FDA–that have damaged by political meddling will consume the lion’s share of the administration’s health policy bandwidth in its first year. It will be pressed to address a huge readiness gap–from critical PPE supplies to the development and deployment of testing and tracing capability to public health co-ordination and messaging–for the next pandemic. Increasing the presently inadequate level of public health funding (less than $100 billion a year in a $21 trillion economy) seems inevitable.

The inability of Congress to produce a fall round of COVID relief will create pressure on Biden to take immediate action to help struggling sectors of the economy, like airlines, restaurants and hospitals, as well as further help for the long term unemployed. Only a little more than half of the 22 million jobs lost in the spring have returned by November. Twenty million Americans were stranded by the July expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits as well as countless millions more “free agents” and contractors not eligible for traditional unemployment that are losing coverage at the end of the year. Mortgage, credit card and consumer loan forbearance are ending, and unless Congress acts, acres of rotten credit will turn rapidly into a banking and bond market crisis which the Federal Reserve cannot fix by itself.   

State governments face FY21 deficits equaling $500 billion over the next two years , against a current annual spending base of about $900 billion.  Further assistance to state and local governments will almost certainly include an additional increase in the federal match for Medicaid (FMAP), beyond the 6.2% temporary increase passed in March). Medicaid enrollment will likely top 80 million by mid 2021, almost one-quarter of the US population. Some states will have upwards of 40% of their population on Medicaid by mid-2021.

States laboring under severe revenue shortfalls will be unable to afford the expanded Medicaid program that was part of ObamaCare without a further increase in the FMAP rate.  President Trump and Senate Republicans blamed the state and local government fiscal crisis on profligate Democratic mismanagement, and blocked aid to them during 2020. But Texas, Florida, Georgia and other red states have the same problems New York and California do. 

Serious Fiscal Limitations Push the Health Policy Agenda Away from Coverage Expansion

Barack Obama entered office with a FY08 federal deficit of $420 billion. Joe Biden enters with a FY20 deficit of $3.1 trillion and a baseline FY21 deficit of $1.8 trillion, before adding the cost of the likely additional trillion dollar-plus stimulus package early next year. It will be passed over the dead bodies of Republican Congressional leadership suddenly recommitted to deficit reduction after racking up $8 trillion in deficit spending during the four years they controlled the federal government.

Coverage Expansion via Medicare and Public Option Unlikely

That deficit will significantly constrain a further expansion of health coverage. Not only will “Medicare for All” be off the table. Severe fiscal pressures will cause the new administration to “slow walk” a public option (which would require federal subsidies to implement) and Medicare expansion to people over age 60. These expansions were going to be  controversial and politically costly because they would be fiercely contested by hospitals and other care providers concerned about the erosion of their commercial insured customer base (the source of perhaps 130% of their bottom lines) as well as the use of Medicare as a de facto price control lever. 

By the time Biden addresses the first two problems–COVID and the economic crisis–he will probably have expended his limited stock of political capital and be weakened enough to be unable to take on the large messy issues of health coverage expansion and cost control. The Affordable Care Act exhausted Obama’s store of political capital, by early 2010. His administration’s failure to turn the economy cost the Democrats control of the House of Representatives and 20 (!) state legislatures in 2010.

What Can Biden Do in Health that Does Not Require Federal Spending?

Thus, the focus of Biden health policy is likely to be on items not requiring fresh spending.

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