BY JEFF GOLDSMITH
Robert Frost once said, “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Increasingly, in our struggling society, that place is your local full service community hospital. During COVID, if it wasn’t your local hospital standing up testing sites, pumping out vaccinations and working double overtime helping patients breathe, we would have lost several hundred thousand more of our fellow Americans.
But it wasn’t just COVID where hospitals leaped into the breach. As primary care physicians’ practices collapsed from documentation overburden and chronic underpayment, hospitals took them in on salary. If it wasn’t for hospitals, vast swatches of the northern most three hundred miles of the US and large stretches of our inner cities would be a physician desert. Hospitals subsidize those practices to a tune of $150k a year to have a full service medical offering and keep their own doors open.
As our public mental health system withered, the hospital emergency department (and, gulp, police forces). became our main mental health resource. Tens of thousands of mentally ill folks languish overnight in hospital observation units because, despite not being “acutely ill”, there is nowhere for the hospital to place them. And as our struggling long term care facilities withered under COVID, those mentally ill folks were joined in observation by seriously impaired older folks too sick to be cared for at home. As funding for public health has withered on the vine, hospitals have become the de facto public health system in the US.
BY GEORGE HALVORSON
2022 Medicare Advantage data gathering process change made last year just made upcoding for plans irrelevant and impossible, but the critics do not accept that it happened.
CMS just ended that upcoding debate for 2022 by completely killing the coding system for the plans, effective immediately. The plans can’t code risk levels up because the coding system was eliminated entirely for 2022.
RAPS is dead.
The payment approach for Medicare Advantage now has no upcoding components and the government just used their new and more accurate numbers to create the 2023 payment level for the plans.
The numbers went up a bit with the real risk levels because the plans actually seemed to have been undercoding in spite of their best efforts to have higher numbers in their RAPS data flow.
We should now be able to put that issue to bed and look at what has been accomplished overall by the Affordable Care Act.
The Medicare Payment component of the Affordable Care Act just evolved to a new level — and the entire Obamacare package should now be recognized for what it is now and what it has become.
BY GEORGE HALVORSON
When the Affordable Care Act was passed, the politics were so intense and the debates were so filled with rhetoric in all directions that most people actually didn’t understand that there were three major component parts to the strategy and program that function very directly as a package, and should be looked at now in the context of several years of implementation to see how each part of that law is currently doing.
Medicaid was our first priority.
The first component part — and the one that had the highest need for passage when the law was passed because we were doing such a horrible job as a country in providing coverage to our children and to our low-income people — was Medicaid expansion.
We were the only country in the industrialized world that did not have health care available to our low-income children, and that deficiency damaged so many people and was so terrible as a reality that we needed to correct it as soon as we could.
That program is on the right track.
Most states have now used the full Medicaid package and we now have a total of 90 million people enrolled in Medicaid. About 41 million of the members are in the CHIPS program, and a majority of the births in a majority of the states are now Medicaid births.
The states have all used a number of modern care improvement tools to provide and deliver significantly better care than the old Medicaid programs that are far too often delivered to their beneficiaries.
BY IAN MORRISON
As a Scot, obviously I am a whisky fan, and although I prefer the smoky malts of Islay (where my grandfather was from and where I visit my friends there frequently), I am also a huge fan of McCallan 18-year-old whisky, the sticky toffee pudding of single malts.
But as all policy wonks know, McAllen Texas is not famous for whisky but for Atul Gawande’s “Cost Conundrum” article in the New Yorker, in 2009 which is still required reading in medical school and MPH classes and was arguably the cornerstone of Obama health policy and the ACO movement.
Dr. Atul Gawande described overutilization and high cost of Medicare revealed by Dartmouth Atlas nationally and zeroed in on McAllen Texas. Compared to El Paso (a seemingly like comparison) McAllen was the most expensive place in America for healthcare based on Medicare claims data. Gawande highlighted the entrepreneurial, doctor-owned, Doctor Hospital at Renaissance DHR in Edinburg, TX as having fancy, modern technology while the community as a whole seemed underserved.
I have always had unease with just using Medicare data to judge costs, because there was no recognition of what I was observing on my travels, namely an enormous variation in commercial prices (not simply utilization) in hospital costs in terms of paid claims by self insured employers. Poignantly, sources at the time claimed McAllen, Texas had among the lowest commercial insurance premium places in the country. Interesting.
BY MIKE MAGEE
As the saying goes, “History repeats!” This is especially true where politics are involved.
Consider for example the past three decades in health care. It is striking how many of the players in our nation’s health policy drama remain front and center. And that includes President Biden who recently commented on the 12th anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare):
“The ACA delivered quality, affordable health coverage to more than 30 million Americans — giving families the freedom and confidence to pursue their dreams without the fear that one accident or illness would bankrupt them. This law is the reason we have protections for pre-existing conditions in America. It is why women can no longer be charged more simply because they are women. It reduced prescription drug costs for nearly 12 million seniors. It allows millions of Americans to get free preventive screenings, so they can catch cancer or heart disease early — saving countless lives. And it is the reason why parents can keep children on their insurance plans until they turn 26.”
BY MIKE MAGEE
“As I’ve said before, I believe Dr. Ladapo is an anti-science quack who doesn’t belong anywhere near our state’s Surgeon General office, let alone running it. But now that he’s been confirmed, it’s my sincere hope that he and Governor DeSantis choose to focus on saving lives and preventing unnecessary illness instead of continuing their absurd promotion of conspiracy theories and opposition to proven public health measures — but I’m not going to hold my breath.”
If you identified these as the words of the former governor, and now Congressman Charlie Crisp, currently running to retake the office he once held, you’d be wrong. These are the words of another state Democrat who is running a distant 2nd in the Democratic primary battle set for this summer.
BY ROSEMARIE DAY
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law twelve years ago today, Joe Biden called it “a big f-ing deal.” Little did he, or anyone else at that time, realize how big of a deal it was. Just ten years later, America was engulfed in a global pandemic, the magnitude of which hadn’t been seen in a century. Two years after that, the numbers are chilling: over 79 million people were infected, at least 878,613 were hospitalized, and 971,968 have died.
As bad as these numbers are, things would have been much worse if the ACA hadn’t come to pass. The ACA created an essential safety net that protected us from even more devastation. Covering over 20 million more people, it is the single largest health care program created since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Thanks to the ACA:
- The estimated 9.6 million people who lost their jobs during the pandemic didn’t have to worry as much about finding health care coverage if they got sick from Covid (or anything else) – they could shop for subsidized insurance on the public exchanges or apply for Medicaid. This helped millions of people to stay covered, which saved thousands of lives. In fact, the overall rate of uninsured people has not increased significantly during the pandemic, thanks to the safety net of these public health care programs.
- The 79 million people who got Covid didn’t have to worry about whether their infection’s aftermath would result in acquiring a pre-existing condition that would prohibit them from buying health insurance in the future (if they couldn’t get coverage through their jobs).
- Those who were burnt out from the pandemic and joined the Great Resignation did not have to worry that they would be locked out of health insurance coverage while they took a break or looked for a new job. According to the Harvard Business Review, resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees (those between 30 and 45 years old), a stage of life when health insurance is critical, given the formation of families and the emerging health issues that come with age.
The ACA’s remarkable safety net framework made it far easier for policy makers to deploy federal funds during this unprecedented emergency. The American Rescue Plan Act , a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, included provisions that built on the ACA, including more generous premium tax credit subsidies. Its predecessor, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) of 2020 enhanced Medicaid funding and required states to provide continuous Medicaid coverage.
- For working- and middle-class people, the health insurance exchanges (both state and federal) provided one-stop shopping with enhanced federal subsidies which made health insurance more accessible for people who lost their employer-sponsored insurance. Many Americans who needed health insurance turned to the ACA marketplaces to find a plan. Amid the recent surge in resignations, the Biden administration announced that sign ups hit an all-time high of 14.5 million when open enrollment ended in January 2022.
- For lower income people, the Medicaid program was there, stronger than ever, thanks to 38 states opting into the ACA’s expansion of the program. An increased federal matching contribution helped states to finance Medicaid enrollment during the worst of the economic downturn and prevented Medicaid disenrollments.
- Additional benefits from these measures included reducing health disparities, ensuring mental health coverage, and helping new moms with more robust coverage.
Despite the ACA’s strong foundation and the many good things worth celebrating on its twelfth anniversary, there are difficulties ahead. The expanded premium subsidies and enhanced Medicaid funding are only temporary – both are set to expire this year. With that will come a loss of insurance coverage as people struggle to afford what’s on offer. On top of this, the public health emergency will be unwinding which will bring continuous Medicaid coverage to an end. And there are still too many uninsured people in this country (27.4 million). Retaining the expanded ACA benefits and finding other ways to build upon the ACA’s foundation are critical issues for the mid-term elections this fall.
A recent study shows that support for the ACA and universal health care has increased during the pandemic. We shouldn’t “let a good crisis go to waste.” We need to make our voices heard and commit to building the future. We’ve had to expend far too much energy over the past decade defending the ACA and protecting it from repeal. The pain we’ve endured during this pandemic should not be for naught. Now is the time to assume an expansive posture of building toward universal health care. Retaining the expanded ACA benefits is an important incremental step. As difficult as the pandemic has been, it is providing a once-in-a-century opportunity to address America’s unfinished business in health care. The ACA is an excellent foundation. Let’s build on that so that we have a lasting cause for celebration.
Rosemarie Day is the Founder & CEO of Day Health Strategies and author of Marching Toward Coverage: How Women Can Lead the Fight for Universal Healthcare (Beacon Press, 2020). Follow her on Twitter: @Rosemarie_Day1
By ROSEMARIE DAY and DAVID W. JOHNSON
Within the current political reality, how can America implement policies that increase access to health insurance while also reducing premium costs and enhancing responsiveness to consumer priorities and needs?
Large-scale healthcare reform appears off-the-table for the Biden Administration. Yet, given the impact of the COVID pandemic on people who have lost (or have worried about losing) their employer-based insurance coverage and the intensifying pressure to reduce overall healthcare costs, solutions that increase health insurance access and affordability have become more important than ever. A significant answer to this complex puzzle can be found at the state level.
Enabled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, state-based marketplaces (SBMs) currently operate in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Another six states operate as SBMs using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov technology platform. Three states, Kentucky, Maine, and New Mexico, will become full SBMs by 2022.
While federal measures to improve insurance access have stalled or been reversed over the past eight years, SBMs have quietly implemented programming modifications for stabilizing local markets that improve the quality and marketability of health insurance offerings to the benefit of consumers.
In Part 2 of our series on marketplace health plan innovations, we examine how SBMs have operated as experimental policy laboratories. They’ve taken their own paths to expand consumer choice, increase access to vital healthcare services, and lower premiums.
By ROSEMARIE DAY and DAVID W. JOHNSON,
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) survived its third challenge at the Supreme Court on June 18, 2021, by a 7-2 vote, signaling that Obamacare is here to stay. With a divided Congress and a Biden administration challenged by multiple urgencies, there is little hope for national legislation to address healthcare’s access, cost, and quality deficiencies comprehensively.
Despite this lack of dramatic progress or sweeping change at the federal level, reformers need not lose hope. Quietly, state-based marketplaces are making health insurance provision more accessible, affordable and effective.
A Biden Administration’s executive order signed in January 2021, reopened the federal health insurance marketplace to individuals seeking to purchase or modify health insurance policies. The fifteen state-based marketplaces (SBMs) followed suit by enacting their own versions of this special enrollment period.
The Administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, enacted on March 11, 2021, includes a narrow but powerful provision that temporarily grants premium subsidies to higher-income Americans and reduces premium costs for lower-income Americans. The “Build Back Better Act” currently moving through the House of Representatives would make these subsidies permanent. It would also provide funding for more experimentation with state-based health insurance affordability programs.
These new policies align with measures undertaken by many SBMs during the past eight years to improve the quality, affordability, and marketability of their health insurance offerings. In this decentralized, real-world way, SBMs have operated as experimental policy laboratories to assess programming modifications for stabilizing local markets, expanding consumer choice, increasing access to vital healthcare services, and lowering premiums.
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.