In last week’s Wall Street Journal, Princeton economist Alan Blinder exposes four myths about the federal deficit. He saves the most important myth for last. After noting that the long term deficit problem does not cut across all areas of spending, he observes that the problem is almost entirely rooted in the need to fund Medicare and Medicaid. If we base future spending projections on past trends, then Blinder is absolutely correct. Spending growth on Medicare and Medicaid nearly always outstrips the growth in tax revenues. The main contributors to spending growth – demographics, labor costs, and, especially, technology – are likely to keep this trend alive indefinitely. Blinder challenges us to focus the debate about the deficit on the key facts, which essentially means that we should focus on Medicare and Medicaid spending. Let me take up his challenge.
Let’s start with the obvious debating points. There is a lot of fat in both programs. CMS just acknowledged that as much as 10 percent of spending in Medicare and Medicaid is “improper.” This does not include spending on defensive medicine, unnecessary services demanded by fully insured patients, unwarranted variations in practice, and all the other usual suspects. Nor does it reckon with all the waste due to poor health behaviors, although eventually the grim reaper will have his say and dying is usually very costly no matter how well you have pampered your body along the way.
Perhaps Newt Gingrich’s book Saving Lives & Saving Money has been quietly redacted of a few lines since its original 2003 printing, because otherwise a simple read of the copies now in circulation would find a blueprint for Obamacare just like the first printing did. I dusted off my old, autographed, copy and re-read it, and am providing some highlights for THCB readers.
Much of the book does propose market-based solutions, such as the use of disease management programs to “dramatically improve outcomes.” However, the book also calls for bigger government, in the form of (1) drug coverage for seniors (since passed) and (2) a “tripling” of the National Science Foundation budget.
In addition to those two specific calls for increased government spending, the first printing contains language that might comfort Don Berwick more than Fox News, and not just because Dr. Berwick gets favorably mentioned twice.
P. 31: “The number of uninsured in America is a threat to our civilization.”
P. 54 “Don Berwick[has] pioneered the translation of the teachings of quality experts such as Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran to the healthcare profession.”
P 59 “It is justified to mandate the use of electronic systems to drag the medical system into the 21st century.”
Romney’s remark last week about firing your insurance company apparently harmed him little in the New Hampshire primary. But as the quote has rocketed around, it might be misleading some into thinking that the Massachusetts health care reforms that Romney signed into law made it so people can willy-nilly get rid of an insurer that doesn’t pay their claims on time.
The comment deserves a second look. Can you really fire your insurance company? The answer is that it’s darn difficult even in Massachusetts—the land of Romneycare.Continue reading…
2013 may be the most significant year in health care policy ever.
But we have to get through 2012 first.
Once the 2012 election results are in there will be the very real opportunity to address a long list of health care issues.
If Republicans win, the top of the list will include “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act. If Obama is reelected, but Republicans capture both houses of Congress, we can still expect a serious effort to change the law. Then there is the granddaddy of all problems, the federal debt. The 2012 elections could well prepare the way for entitlement reform—particularly for Medicare and Medicaid. Even if Obama is reelected, the 2013 agenda will include a serious debate about Republican ideas to change Medicare into a premium support system and block grant Medicaid to the states.
If the election is a draw with neither side able to unilaterally move their agenda—likely in the form of Obama still in the White House but facing a Republican Congress, the pressure to deal with the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid as well as nagging concerns about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will create an imperative for action in 2013.
House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have embraced a Medicare reform plan that in concept borrows heavily from one championed by former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin.
Specifically, Wyden and Ryan are proposing to alter the earlier Ryan Medicare plan by:
Continuing to offer the traditional Medicare plan—Ryan would have eliminated it—in addition to a range of private Medicare plans offered by health insurers.
Tying federal Medicare premium support to an amount equal to the second lowest cost Medicare plan—public or private—available to seniors in each market. Ryan would have set a flat premium support amount in year-one and increased that only at the rate of inflation.
Instituting a series of consumer protections and medical underwriting rules designed to protect seniors.
Instituting an annual cap on what the federal government could pay for Medicare at an amount equal to the increase in the nation’s GDP + 1%—Ryan would have capped annual increases in the federal premium support amount at the increase in the consumer price index.
On this blog I have been arguing that the risk for health care costs rising too quickly should not be borne entirely by seniors–that the stakeholders who really run the system should be most accountable. And, that is what the Wyden-Ryan plan would do: “Any increase over that cap will be reflected in reduced support for the sectors most responsible for cost growth, including providers, drug companies, and means-tested premiums,” their plan states. Continue reading…
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s reform plan for Medicare is just as cautious―and carefully vague on some key details―as might be expected from an politician famously sensitive to the winds of public opinion.
Romney’s proposal looks a lot like those offered by last year’s Rivlin-Domenici Debt Reduction Task Force and the 1999 National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. Like those proposals, and also the plan offered by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan, Romney’s would convert Medicare into a premium support program in which beneficiaries would receive a fixed contribution towards the cost of coverage. However, unlike Ryan’s plan―received so negatively by seniors that it cost Republicans a House seat―beneficiaries would still have traditional fee-for-service Medicare as an option.
Under the Romney proposal, commercial insurers would compete with traditional Medicare in offering a basic set of benefits. Beneficiaries would choose from a “menu” of plans, paying out-of-pocket for any difference between the premium and the federal support contribution. Lower-income individuals would receive larger premium support amounts, while beneficiaries selecting options with premiums below the support amount would keep the savings. Also, as with the other similar proposals, there would be a gradual increase in the Medicare eligibility age from today’s 65 years.
Although it was immediately attacked by various liberal commentators, the Romney proposal seems on the surface to be a reasonable approach to a program that otherwise is headed for bankruptcy. How reasonable, however, will depend on numerous details that have been carefully left vague. (Interestingly, the proposal is nowhere mentioned on candidate Romney’s campaign web site.)
A “government takeover of health care” is back. At least it is in the mind of New Jersey governor Chris Christie. In an interview with talk radio show host Dom Giordano, the governor, who supports Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, dished out strong clues about how Republicans are going to fight the health reform law. The weapon of choice: Frank Luntz’s focus-group tested messages. On the show Christie showed he was in sync with Romney’s defense of the Massachusetts reform law, which Romney’s administration supported and which later became the model for national reform. But to distance himself from the federal law, Romney has said what was good for Massachusetts at the time may not be good for the rest of the country. And Christie has said that what happened in the Bay State “would not be good for New Jersey.”
On the show, Christie urged the president to tell the truth about the reform law. What truth would Christie tell?
I’d say to the president, in Massachusetts, we didn’t propose to raise taxes, as you proposed to raise taxes a trillion dollars to pay for a government takeover of health care…. Ninety-three percent of the people in Massachusetts had private insurance then and have private insurance now. That’s not what’s gonna happen under Obamacare. It’s gonna be a government takeover of health care.
Really, Governor? As Campaign Desk has repeatedly noted, the health reform law does not call for a government takeover of health care. The law simply brings private insurance to people who are uninsured. You know, the kind sold by those giants of the American insurance business—UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross, Cigna, and Humana—which just posted a large profit gained mostly from selling private Medicare Advantage plans to seniors.
Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has pledged to end “Obamacare.” Upon taking office, he would immediately begin the process by granting the states waivers from having to implement it:
“I’ll grant a waiver on Day One to get repeal started. On Day One, granting a waiver for all 50 states doesn’t stop it in its tracks entirely. That’s why I also say we have to repeal Obamacare, and I will do that on Day Two, with a reconciliation bill [requiring only 51 votes in the Senate] because as you know, it was passed by reconciliation with 51 votes.”
Romney appears to be on thin ground in making his waiver promise and his promise to use reconciliation to stop “Obamacare” could lead to chaos in the market and among consumers.
The waiver promised is based on a provision in the law authored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden’s provision was designed to allow states to petition the feds to opt out of the new health care law by taking the federal money that was going to be spent in their state under the Affordable Care Act and draft a comprehensive plan of their own that covered at least as many people as well as the Affordable Care Act would have.Continue reading…
Tim Pawlenty used a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday to show a tougher demeanor and to prove he will not make health care cost containment and access a priority. As Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney worked with the Democratic legislature and the health care industry to expand access to all residents of the state and to commit to cost containing behavior change. The coverage reforms came right out of conservative health policy playbooks at Wharton (in the 1980s) and the Heritage Foundation (in the 1990s) and the cost containment was to be accomplished by voluntary action of Massachusetts health systems and health plans. On which they have since foundered, leaving Romney to take the heat.
When President Obama made his commitment to reform of national coverage, access, insurance, payment, and delivery system policy, national Republicans refused to cooperate. The legislative policy approach he advocated came mostly from a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee report from 2008. Elements of it came from the bipartisan approach Romney took in Massachusetts. Congressional Republicans unanimously refused to participate in the process. Today every elected Republican has committed to repealing Obamacare (and now Obama-ney care).
What changed? The definition of Republican. The election power of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint and the Rupert Murdoch/WSJ/Fox version of facts to bring out the “just vote No on government and on Obama” in a substantial enough minority of Americans turned the trick. While Pawlenty and Bachmann represent a state which has been committed to universal coverage and healthcare cost containment for decades, neither has done much to make it a reality in our state. Assuming “repeal and replace” implies state action is preferable to national, they’ve nothing to show for their efforts so far.
Senator David Durenberger, Minnesota, served in the US Senate from 1978 – 1995.
Though thoroughly smothered under 2900 pages of well meaning but poorly focused, expert-driven “good works”, the core of the Affordable Care Act was providing 30 million people subsidized health insurance coverage. As the country continues to decide how it feels about this monumental legislation, a major ideological divide persists over whether the aggressive coverage expansion in health reform was really needed or not.
Far from “selling itself,” as a overconfident White House aide suggested it would back on March 23, 2010, health reform remains strikingly unpopular. Only 37% of the public thinks the country will be better off as a result of health reform, and only 28% think their families will be better off, according to the May Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. There is a stark partisan divide over health reform. While 72% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of health reform, a substantial minority believes the bill could have done more (covered more people, provided a public option or path to single payer). Alternatively, 74% of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of health reform; the same percentage favors repeal. Independents tend to break toward the Republican view of the bill (49% unfavorable vs. 35% favorable). Those opposed feel more intensely about health reform than those in favor.
The Ryan House Budget for 2012 zeroes out all new spending for health reform (while keeping ACA’s Medicare cuts, devoting them to deficit reduction!). The conservative narrative is that the problem of the uninsured was liberal mythology, not meriting major new spending. In the blogosphere, an analysis surfaced suggesting that the real uninsured problem is only about 4 million people. This apparently originated in a Heritage Foundation blog posting from late August, 2009. Other conservative analysts charitably suggest there may be as many as ten to twelve million uninsured worthy of federal help. To take care of this smaller number, you do not need a major coverage expansion, but merely to apply the familiar market oriented remedies: selling insurance across state lines, high deductible health plans, malpractice reform, high risk pools, etc.