The latest Republican effort to undermine health care reform hits the House floor this week with the law of unintended consequences clearly in play. If the bill actually became law – an unlikely event since the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House – it would promote the federal takeover of health care, something Republicans have consistently opposed on the campaign trail.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, withdraws federal financial support for state-based insurance exchanges. The exchanges, which will provide a clearing house for health insurance policies sold to individuals and small groups, are supposed to be up and running by January 2014.
The original Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act created an open-ended federal grant program to help states defray the costs of setting up the exchanges. Eliminating that support would save the federal government about $1.9 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which released a cost estimate for H.R. 1213 late Thursday.Continue reading…
Fed up with the unpredictable cost of health insurance for his small business, Mike Sarafolean last year made a dramatic change: Instead of picking a plan to offer workers, he now sends them to a “private exchange” or marketplace where they compare and choose their own insurance. And the amount his company pays toward coverage is capped.
Mike Sarafolean, CEO of Orion Corporation of Minnesota, last year joined a growing number of employers embracing a dramatic change in the way they offer health benefits (Photo by Andy King).
The move puts his St. Paul, Minn.-based company on the leading edge of a nascent trend that could shape how more employers offer and pay for their health benefits in the coming years. It is part of an ongoing evolution in job-based health benefits that is gradually shifting cost and responsibility to workers.
The private exchanges, mainly run by former insurance executives and employee benefit consulting firms, operate in more than 20 states.Continue reading…
President Obama on Wednesday will unveil his counter offer for bringing the nation’s budget deficit under control. Last week, the Republican plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., chairman of the House Budget Committee, focused public attention on cutting health care subsidies for seniors and low-income people.
Will the president go after the bloated health care sector, too?
Here’s one way he could raise a half trillion dollars in the next four years from health without touching seniors or the poor. The plan would win plaudits from tax purists and deficit hawks. And it would make a major contribution to holding down the growth in health care costs, while testing Ryan’s claim to back putting tax expenditures on the table.
The president should propose eliminating the income tax exclusion for health care benefits.Continue reading…
By JIM MARKS, MD MPH
A new study in the influential policy journal Health Affairs gives added credence to the idea that much of what drives health falls outside of the realm of medical care. In fact, this must-read study points out what so many of us know: that simply providing someone a health insurance card is not enough to make them healthy.
What better place to test this theory than in Canada – our northern neighbor with a publicly financed universal health care system. Researchers looked at nearly 15,000 Canadians in the nation’s health system who were free of heart disease and tracked them for at least a decade. Not surprisingly, people disadvantaged by little education and low income, used the health care system more than those with higher incomes. But more importantly, this increased use of services had no discernable effect on improving their health or cutting their death rates – the ultimate bottom line – when compared with others with higher education, higher income and LESS usage of health care.
Almost all of the debate about health care here has been about how many Americans will be covered, for what care, and at what cost. The results of this Canadian study are clear. It may be helpful to have insurance to get care, but the United States cannot expect that giving people medical care will diminish differences in health outcomes or the likelihood of an early death among disadvantaged people. The authors explicitly warn against relying on universal coverage to eliminate inequalities in health.Continue reading…
If “Obamacare” was a federal takeover of health care, states failed to get the memo.
The House Republicans and three Democrats who voted to “repeal and replace” it with something that provides “lower health care premiums through increased competition and choice” might want to take a look at Utah. Its new internet-based insurance exchange was designed by free-market advocates.
It provides small businesses, individuals and even some large employers with access to competitive insurance plans. The state’s Republican leadership, aided by Michael Leavitt, the state’s former governor and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, believes their exchange “could be a national model for market-based health care reform.”
Closer to where they go to work every day, the “repeal and replacers” in Washington might also want to follow onrushing events in Virginia, whose state attorney general sued to void the individual mandate in the national law. Last month, using a $1 million planning grant from the federal government, the state’s Republican secretary of health Bill Hazel, an orthopedic surgeon, issued a “Virginia Health Reform Initiative” that outlined the state’s vision of reform under the federal Affordable Care Act.
It’s centerpiece? The proposal, which was introduced in both houses of the state legislature this month with bipartisan support, calls for setting up a health care insurance exchange that will “try to promote effective competition” within the state, said Len Nichols, a professor of health policy at George Mason University, who consulted with Hazel in coming up with the proposal. Virginia desperately needs some competition since one carrier – Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield – currently controls over 60 percent of the market, Nichols said.
PPACA prescribes states’ “flexibility” in structuring exchanges. Libertarian and conservative policy analysts have criticized Massachusetts’ bloated and intrusive Commonwealth Connector, the country’s first pre-Obamacare exchange. Some, however, have pointed to the Utah Health Exchange, re-launching next year, as a more consumer-friendly alternative. According to this line, even states opposed to Obamacare should go forth and establish Utah-type exchanges, which will blunt the worst effects of Obamacare.
These grounds for collaboration, unfortunately, do not survive careful scrutiny. In the pre-Obamacare world, exchanges were suggested as a way to get around the major government failure in American health care: Congress’s grant of monopoly control of our pre-tax health dollars to our employers.
The Utah Health Exchange allows spouses to aggregate defined contributions from different employers. For example, suppose a husband’s employer contributes $300 per month to the exchange for health insurance. His wife works for another employer which does the same. The household has $600 to spend on a family policy that they, not their employers, choose. The husband and wife can then decide to which of their employers they wish to affiliate, satisfying federal regulations for group coverage. That sounds pretty good. However, this “premium aggregator” has not yet been tested. It goes into effect this month, for members who applied via open enrollment at the end of last year.
It’s coming up to four months since the Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $50 million in grants to states and US possessions for health insurance exchange planning and development, and the money is now starting to be spent. $50 million seems like a fair amount of cash, but it’s generally understood that this is just a down payment on the cost of exchanges. So how much might a state expect to spend?
Although neither complies exactly with the requirements of PPACA, the exchanges in Massachusetts and Utah provide some clues as to how much a state might have to spend in order to have a successful functioning exchange.
The Massachusetts Connector meets the PPACA requirements quite closely (not surprisingly given that PPACA drafters used it as a model), and has been operational for four years. It offers on-line enrollment to small groups and to both subsidized and unsubsidized individuals. There are now approximately 155,000 subsidized CommCare enrollees and close to 40,000 unsubsidized enrollees.
The Connector has been quite generously funded. An initial state appropriation provided $25 million in planning and development funds, while operations costs are funded through per-enrollee levies on participating health plans. Current levy rates are 4-4.5 percent (comparable to insurance broker renewal rates), giving the Connector an operations and ongoing enhancement budget of more than $40 million a year to pay for some 45 staff, consultants, and IT and other contractors.
The trials and tribulations of Utah’s much-touted Health Exchange continued in December, with the announcement that yet another chief executive had quit, along with the admission that very few eligible employer groups had signed up for the exchange.
The Utah exchange differs from that of Massachusetts in that it currently focuses on coverage for small employers offering defined contribution plans, a policy that was hoped to demonstrate the effectiveness of such plans. However, so far enrollment has been far too low to test the merits of this approach.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported in late December that a new executive director had been appointed to head the exchange, which is administratively located in the Governor’s Office, making the third director in just over six months.
The Tribune went on to compare the expectations of State officials, who had anticipated enrolling 3,000 small employers with an estimated total of 40,000 employees, with the current reality. As of late December, with coverage scheduled to start on January 1, 2011, just 43 of the State’s estimated 50,000 small businesses had signed up and been determined eligible.
Back in September, when the Utah exchange started to accept coverage applications, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert was quoted as saying: “[the exchange] is quickly becoming a model for the rest of the nation when it comes to health care reform.”
Roger Collier was formerly CEO of a national health care consulting firm. His experience includes the design and implementation of innovative health care programs for HMOs, health insurers, and state and federal agencies. He is editor of Health Care REFORM UPDATE.
Let’s be honest–I absolutely abhor the so-called National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). It’s not a representative business group. In 2004 95% of their members said they voted for Bush, compared to 53% of all small business owners. (Remember that election was 50–50) Nonetheless, the first line of the recent NY Times article on NFIB joining the Republican Attorneys-General lawsuit on the individual mandate is that they’re trying to depoliticize the “largely Republican assault” on the new health care law. Ha, bloody ha.
But I’m not grumpy that the NFIB is joining this pointless lawsuit. I’m grumpy that they’re so blatantly going against the interest of small businesses. And yes I run one! So to remind you how stupid the NFIB is (in global not political terms) I’ve reprinted an article I wrote on Spot-on back in 2006–-and sadly nothing has changed. (The great thing about being a relatively veteran blogger is that I can really recycle material!)
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Small Business Shock-troops That Can’t Do Basic Math
Long ago, back in 1994 when Democrats walked freely in Washington, an outfit called the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) took a large role in overturning the Clinton health care plan and, consequently, a supporting role in the Republican Congressional victory later that year. And in health care policy, as they say in the movies: They’re baaaaaack.
Now, The NFIB is a narrow-(minded) interest group like any other; typical of any Washington trade association. But in health care it’s policy involves cutting off its nose to spite its own face and doing so with a rather dull knife.