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.
It is fair to say that the vast majority of Americans know more about viruses today than they did 24 months ago. The death and destruction in the wake of COVID-19 and its progeny have been a powerful motivator. Fear and worry tend to focus one’s attention.
Our collective learnings are evolving. We have already seen historic comparisons to other epidemics. Just search “The 10 worst epidemics” for confirmation. But one critical area which has been skimmed over, and only delicately probed (if at all) is the ecology or “the ecological point of view.”
For those interested, let me recommend “Natural History of Infectious Disease” published in 1972 by Nobel laureate and Australian biologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet and his colleague David O. White.
Chapter 1 begins: “In the final third of the twentieth century, we of the affluent West are confronted with no lack of environmental, social, and political problems, but one of the immemorial hazards of human existence is gone. Young people today have had almost no experience of serious infectious disease…For the first time in history deaths in infancy and childhood are not predominantly from infection.” But a few sentences on, they add this addendum, “Infectious diseases may be almost invisible, but it is still potentially as important as ever it was.”
Americans are all too familiar with the living biologic organism named COVID-19. By now, they know what it looks like, the role of its outer spikes, its nuclear makeup, and genetic alterations that allow the creation of derivative variants and vaccines. But in addition to its biological science, it also has an ecological life as well.
The power to mandate vaccines was litigated and resolved over a century ago. Justice John Marshall Harlin, a favorite of current Chief Justice Roberts, penned the 7 to 2 majority opinion in 1905’s Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Its impact was epic.
In 1905, Massachusetts was one of 11 states that required compulsory vaccinations. The Rev. Henning Jacobson, a Lutheran minister, challenged the city of Cambridge, MA, which had passed a local law requiring citizens to undergo smallpox vaccination or pay a $5 fine. Jacobson and his son claimed they had previously had bad reactions to the vaccine and refused to pay the fine believing the government was denying them their due process XIV Amendment rights.
In deciding against them, Harlan wrote, “liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own [liberty]…”
Of course, a state’s right to legislate compulsory public health measures does not require them to do so. In fact, as we have seen in Texas and Florida among others, they may decide to do just the opposite – declare life-saving mandates (for masks or vaccines) to be unlawful. At least 14 states have passed laws barring employer and school vaccine mandates and imposing penalties in Republican-controlled states already.
So state powers are clearly a double-edged sword when it comes to health care.
Episode 23 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, August 27th! Watch it below!
Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) was joined by some of our regulars: health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), health care consultant Daniel O’Neill (@dp_oneill). The conversation revolved around how providers should reshape some of their practices amid the pandemic, what the large Teladoc-Livongo merger brings to the marketplace, and how there are still lots of potential ways start-ups can fit their models into care practices in the industry.
If you’d rather listen to the episode, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Zoya Khan
Even before Covid19, virtual care for chronic conditions was a hot and competitive area, with the heat turned up by Livongo Health’s IPO last year and big funding rounds for companies like Omada Health, Virta Health, and One Drop. Another contender in the space, Vida Health, has been best known for taking a “platform” approach to chronic condition management before “platforming out” became the-move-to-make for scaling health tech companies. Their digital health biz actually started out with a “whole health approach” to helping patients manage all their conditions at once, integrating care for diabetes, hypertension, COPD, high cholesterol, mental health conditions, and more from the get-go. Contrast that to some of their biggest competitors, who have adapted to that approach by adding on treatments for co-morbidities as their core businesses evolved.
Is there a benefit to starting out with a holistic care model that those who build it along the way can’t capture? We caught up with Vida Health’s founder & CEO, Stephanie Tilenius, to find out what advantage starting out as a platform play has brought to her business, which just closed a $25M funding round in April and is now available to more than 1.5 million people through employers and health plans.
How will the company scale from here? How will they remain competitive in such a crowded space? Stephanie talks through some of Vida Health’s post-pandemic plans AND how lessons learned from her “previous life” as an exec in Big Tech during that industry’s growth era of the 2000s & 2010s has shaped her thinking about the uptake of technology in healthcare. Not only did Stephanie work at eBay, PayPal, and Google during the birth of the online payment era, BUT she also helped take an online pharmacy company (Planet Rx) public during the dotcom boom.
There are few better positioned to speculate on what’s next for telehealth than Roy Schoenberg, co-CEO & President, of Amwell. After 15 years, more than $710M in total funding, and probably the best analogies out there for describing telehealth’s potential as a disruptive technology, Roy weighs in on just how unprecedented COVID19 has been for the uptake and evolution of virtual care.
“Historically, people thought, could telehealth be as good as a physical visit? The reality of COVID,” says Roy, “has literally opened the door to the question, can telehealth be better?”
From the near-term “new wave” of telehealth that has already begun to “eclipse the urgent care telehealth” to how Amwell’s clientele of clinicians, healthcare delivery systems, and payers are shifting to accept the idea of the technology as “the start of healthcare,” Roy talks of a future of telehealth that is “entrenched inside the system.” And how Amwell is meant to act as “facilitator.”
“When we start thinking about telehealth as a switchboard — not as a product, but as an infrastructure for the redistribution of healthcare — we’re talking about a completely different experience for us as Americans on what healthcare is available to us and how we can consume it.”
“To me, and I’ll fast forward to the end here, we want to get to the point that telehealth changes our expectation when we grow old as to where we can grow old. We want to be in a place where we can stay at home…where we don’t have to be in the ‘belly of the beast’ to get healthcare.”
How far away is this future that Roy describes, midway through telehealth’s biggest year yet? Is the appetite there among incumbents? And what of those Amwell IPO rumors? How might that kind of funding help rush things along? Tune in to this episode of ‘WTF Health – What’s the Future, Health?’ with Jessica DaMassa to find out.
Episode 17 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, July 9th! Watch it below!
Joining me were some of our regulars: patient advocate Grace Cordovano (@GraceCordovano), health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (@healthythinker), WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), and guests: Tina Park, partner at Diagram (@diagramoffice) & Shannon Brownlee, Senior VP at the Lown Institute (@ShannonBrownlee). The conversation focused on asynchronous care, the gap between patients & technology, and the Supreme Court ruling on employers’ ability to limit women’s access to birth control coverage. It was a great and engaging conversation with some of the top health care experts in the field.
If you’d rather listen, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Zoya Khan
Episode 12 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Friday, June 5th from 1PM PT to 4PM ET. If you didn’t have a chance to tune in, you can watch it below or on our YouTube Channel.
Editor-in-Chief, Zoya Khan (@zoyak1594), ran the show! She spoke to economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (@healthythinker), executive & mentor Andre Blackman (@mindofandre), writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), MD-turned entrepreneur Jean-Luc Neptune (@jeanlucneptune), and patient advocate Grace Cordovano (@GraceCordovano). The conversation focused on health disparities seen in POC communities across the nation and ideas on how the system can make impactful changes across the industry, starting with executive leadership and new hires. It was an informative and action-oriented conversation packed with bursts of great facts and figures.
If you’d rather listen, the “audio only” version it is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels a day or so after the episode — Matthew Holt
Episode 11 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, May 27th and you can see it again below
Joining me were three regulars, patient safety expert Michael Millenson (MLMillenson), writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), and two new guests: digital health investment banker Steven Wardell (@StevenWardell) and MD turned physician leadership coach Maggi Cary (@MargaretCaryMD)! The conversation was heavy on telemedicine and value based care, and their impact on the stock-market, the economy and the health care system–all in a week when we went over 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.
If you’d rather listen, the “audio only” version is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Matthew Holt
Matthew Holt talks to David Smith who is working on the Medicaid Transformation Project at Avia, which is looking at how hospitals & health plans can improve health outcomes and in turn, lose less money on Medicaid programs. David talks about the tremendous amount of capital being poured into Medicaid, and how the problem is only getting worse. So the focus of the project is trying to reduce healthcare delivery organizations’ spend on these services. At Avia, they are trying to take the best of model science and the best of digital capabilities to help create more efficient care models for their clients as well as reduce costs.
Zoya Khan is the Editor-in-Chief of THCB and a Strategy Manager at SMACK.health
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