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Tag: 2012 Election

The 2012 Elections and 2013 — A Daunting To-Do List

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.

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The Future of Health Care in Obama’s Second Term

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.

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Nate Silver Is King, Long Live Nate Silver

My twitter stream is awash in math this morning, cheering Nate Silver’s exceptional forecasting (“Triumph of the Nerds: Nate Silver Wins In Fifty States”, Chris Taylor wrote), and celebrating the victory of math and big data over pompous punditry.  Jeff Greenfield tweeted, “I, for one, welcome our new Algorithmic Overlord.”

At some level, I thrill to the ascendancy of math, and of math nerds – and I write this as a proud former math team captain (and math team T-shirt designer), and as someone whose very best summers as a teenager were spent in math (and writing) camp at Duke University.  It’s also one of the reasons I love Silicon Valley so much – it’s where nerds rule, and where even emerging VCs promote themselves as “Geeks.”

However, before we turn all of life over to algorithms, as some are suggesting, it’s important to place the election prediction in context.

The accomplishment of Silver’s splendid forecasting was to intelligently aggregate existing data, to accurately summarize the current, expressed intentions of the national electorate.  And we’ve learned that careful analysis is far more useful than blustery experts – something Philip Tetlock has been trying to tell us for years.

At the same time, all forecasting challenges are not created equal, and summarizing current public opinion is a much lower bar than predicting events far into the future – and Silver has been clear about this; it’s others who seem to be leaping ahead.

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The Future of Health Reform May Turn on Senate Races

While all eyes focused on the presidential race, the ultimate fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could depend on the Senate contests in the states.

Even if Mitt Romney were elected, he alone could not overturn major provisions of healthcare reform. Only Congress can pass the legislation needed to change the ACA.

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House, but if Democrats hold the Senate, they will be able to block House bills aimed at eviscerating “Obamacare.”

What is at stake

If Republicans take the Senate, the two chambers could pass legislation that would:

· eliminate the premium subsidies designed to make health insurance affordable for middle-income and low-income families
· bring an end to Medicaid expansion, and
· rescind the individual mandate that everyone buy insurance or pay a tax.

Under “budget reconciliation,” Republicans would need only a simple majority to pass such legislation. In the Senate, 51 votes would do it. Today, Republicans hold 47 seats.

Razor-sharp margins in many states make it impossible to predict outcomes. Polls only give us a blurry snapshot of one moment in time – and in states like Arizona, candidates have been trading leads from week to week.

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Healthcare Law on the Ballot

Ezra Klein is right. In a recent Washington Post column, the left-leaning policy wonk laid plain that the future of ObamaCare is at stake in next week’s elections. If President Obama wins and Democrats hold the Senate, the Affordable Care Act will survive. If Mitt Romney wins and Republicans take the Senate, the law is dead. It is the starkest of differences.

How likely is each scenario? At this moment Democrats have the advantage. According to Real Clear Politics, the president is running slightly ahead in six out of ten battleground states. He could actually lose seven of these, but still be reelected if he hangs onto Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

While key Senate races have tightened, such as Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Democrats have a slight advantage there too. If the elections were held today, Republicans would fall two seats short.

What would this future look like?  Implementing ObamaCare would be accelerated. HHS and states will have less than fourteen months to finalize major provisions of the law before they take effect on January 1, 2014.

Thousands of pages of regulation will be released shortly after the election, on everything from IRS rules for employers to essential health benefits to covering pre-existing conditions. It remains to be seen how prescriptive these regulations would be.

State officials will have to submit a blueprint for their insurance exchanges by November 16th. They will need to decide if they will create and exchange and how it will be designed.

They will also have to decide whether to expand their Medicaid programs, and they’ll need to determine essential health benefits and benchmark plans for the insurance options to be sold through their exchanges.

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How Health Care Changed While You Were Watching the Election

After a seemingly endless presidential campaign, we’re just days away from the Nov. 6 election. And to be sure, health care issues remain at the forefront.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tried to claim the high ground as Medicare’s number one defender. In his latest column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman argues that next week’s vote “is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid.” And writing on Bloomberg View, columnist Ezra Klein takes an even broader stance, concluding that “this election is all about health care.”

But health care isn’t all about the election, despite politics’ seeming ability to draw every sector into its gravitational pull.

In fact, many of the most significant stories in health care from the past two months haven’t come from the campaign trail — where candidates have mostly rehashed their existing policies — but from the private sector, as employers and providers have made aggressive, and sometimes unexpected, deals and changes. Reforms that will continue regardless of who’s sitting in the Oval Office next year.

Here are some of those stories.

Top Employers Move to Defined Contribution

As previously discussed in “Road to Reform,” Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants have made plans to shift away from their current “defined benefits” — where they choose a set of health insurance benefits on behalf of their workers — and roll out “defined contribution” instead.

Under that model, firms pay a fixed amount for employees’ health benefits and allow workers to choose their coverage from an online marketplace, such as the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or the emerging number of privately run exchanges.

In theory, the model would slow employers’ health costs while allowing employees to have more control over their own health care spending. And Sears and Darden’s announcements aren’t wholly unexpected, given that many employers have signaled their interest in making a similar shift.

But given the long-entrenched employer-sponsored health coverage model, some employers needed to be the first movers before the rest would be ready to follow.

Will they? That will be a major industry issue to watch across the next months.

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Why Obamacare Is Good for White People

With some pundits predicting that President Obama’s re-election could be sabotaged by a slim level of white voter support, I decided to dig through the small print on Obamacare to see how this right-wing lightning rod actually affects my fellow Caucasians.

It turns out that the high-profile legislative highlight of Obama’s first term is very good for white people. When the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, 12.3 million more white people will have health insurance than have it today, according to an analysis in Health Affairs.

Obamacare looks even more positive for the pale skinned when put next to the Romney-Ryancare alternative. If Obamacare is repealed and replaced by the health reform plan Presidential-candidate Romney now proposes – not to be confused with the plan Massachusetts then-Gov. Romney enacted into law — an extra 24.8 million white people will not have health insurance. (That’s if you apply current demographics to a recent Commonwealth Fund analysis.)

By way of perspective, that’s nearly equivalent to the entire population of Texas (but all white people) having to cope with serious problems accessing medical care and paying for it. Or to use a more politically compelling comparison, 24.8 million white people would be more than twice the size of the whole population of Ohio.

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What HHS Might Look Like Under President Romney

The world may not be ready for a Romney presidency.

Or more specifically: world leaders may not have done enough homework.

An interesting Washington Post story this week suggested that because the foreign polls have been so bullish on President Obama — 82% of Germans in one survey expected Obama to be re-elected — lawmakers around the world may be scrambling to adjust to a new team of U.S. diplomats and set of policies.

Is the health sector better prepared?

Given the close race — as of press time on Wednesday, most polls had the presidential race neck and neck — there’s been growing scrutiny of Republican health proposals. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute on Tuesday released another report on the GOP House Budget Committee’s Medicaid plan.

But there’s been much less examination of the people who would steer Romney’s Department of Health and Human Services and the policies they’d carry out.

Possible, if Unlikely Contenders

A handful of names — all veterans of the George W. Bush administration — have been repeatedly floated as potential HHS secretaries under Romney. National Journal suggested that former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt could return to the role. Meanwhile, ex-FDA and CMS head Mark McClellan is “the first name that comes to mind for many Republican health policy folks,” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote earlier this year.

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A Time for Boundless Energy and Optimism

2012 has been a challenging year for me.

On the personal side, my wife had cancer. Together we moved two households, relocated her studio, and closed her gallery. This week my mother broke her hip in Los Angeles and I’m writing from her hospital room as we finalize her discharge and home care plan before I fly back to Boston.

On the business side, the IT community around me has worked hard on Meaningful Use Stage 2, the Massachusetts State Health Information Exchange, improvements in data security, groundbreaking new applications, and complex projects like ICD10 with enormous scope.

We did all this with boundless energy and optimism, knowing that every day we’re creating a foundation that will improve the future for our country, communities, and families.

My personal life has never been better – Kathy’s cancer is in remission, our farm is thriving, and our daughter is maturing into a fine young woman at Tufts University.

My business life has never been better – Meaningful Use Stage 2 provides new rigorous standards for content/vocabulary/transport at a time when EHR use has doubled since 2008, the State HIE goes live in one week, and BIDMC was voted the number #1 IT organization the country.

It’s clear that many have discounted the amazing accomplishments that we’ve all made, overcoming technology and political barriers with questions such as “how can we?” and “why not?” rather than “why is it taking so long?” They would rather pursue their own goals – be they election year politics, academic recognition, or readership traffic on a website.

As many have seen, this letter from the Ways and Means Committee makes comments about standards that clearly have no other purpose than election year politics. These House members are very smart people and I have great respect for their staff. I’m happy to walk them through the Standards and Certification Regulations (MU stage 1 and stage 2) so they understand that the majority of their letter is simply not true – it ignores the work of hundreds of people over thousands of hours to close the standards gaps via open, transparent, and bipartisan harmonization in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

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The Nefarious Big Bird- Health Care Connection

The flap greeting Mitt Romney’s cheerful admission that as president he’d defund Big Bird’s nesting place on public television could turn out to be good news for a federal agency promoting safe medical care that faces a similar extinction threat. But we won’t know till after the election whether the little-known agency benefited from Big Bird’s protective presence.

The stage was set for Romney’s Big Bird boast by a bill Republicans pushed through a House Appropriations subcommittee in July that slashed or eliminated budgets for a host of programs, including public television’s parent, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A committee statement at the time said the move was meant “to encourage CPB to operate exclusively on private funds.” That same bill completely abolished the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Health policy wonks lamented that terminating the agency “would badly undermine important research on health care quality, disparities in care and patient safety,” as a member of AHRQ’s national advisory council put it. But hardly anyone else noticed.

The end of AHRQ didn’t even rate a separate mention in the committee’s lengthy press release. And while Politico reported that a Democratic subcommittee member called it “the only federal agency whose sole mission is to improve the quality, safety and cost efficiency of health care,” the subcommittee’s GOP chairman said, in effect, the death sentence was nothing personal. It was just a budget-balancing action and “not a reflection on anything.”

That’s where Big Bird waddles into the picture.

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