The New Year always brings many changes. In addition to soon to be broken resolutions, this particular year ushered in strict mandates requiring employers with more than 100 full-time employees to either provide health insurance to those employees or pay fines of between $2000 and $3,000. We’ve seen many firms publicly respond to this by cutting benefits to part-time workers. Despite the criticism that often accompanies these decisions, in many, if not all, of these cases this move benefits employees. Without the offer of employer-provided insurance they get access to the ACA exchanges.
Part of the criticism stems from the implicit belief that firms “give” benefits to their employees out of some form of philanthropy. These benefits are just a tax-preferred (though not really for low-income employees) form of compensation, and research shows that increases in benefit costs result in lower wages for employees. The firms that have cut benefits will either increase wages or lose a lot of employees. (If they cut benefits, do not raise wages, and do not lose workers, then they must not have been profit maximizing to begin with; we highly doubt that firms like WalMart would have knowingly forsaken an opportunity to maximize profits.)Continue reading…
Tomorrow the Presidential election process comes to an end and the advertising will finally stop. We’ll all be relieved. I especially look forward to a quiet dinner at home without robotic election-related calls.
What about healthcare IT? Will differences in the Obama and Romney platforms impact the momentum of Meaningful Use?
Here’s what I believe.
The Obama Healthcare IT platform builds on what we’ve created over the past few years. It will continue to leverage the federal advisory committees (Policy and Standards) to engage a wide array of stakeholders. It will persist the progression to Meaningful Use Stage 3 and possibly future stages. It will embrace certification now the temporary certification process has been replaced with a permanent one. It will support the initiatives of the Standards and Interoperability framework (S&I), although the end of stimulus funds from ARRA means that ONC will move some of the S&I initiatives to private/public partnerships. It will support the current leadership at ONC – Farzad and his delegates such as Steve Posnack, Doug Fridsma, and Judy Murphy.
The Romney Healthcare IT platform notes that Healthcare IT is an issue which has broad bipartisan support. No one argues that a foundation of healthcare IT implemented properly is essential for accountable care organizations. Quality, safety, and efficiency all benefit from the process enhancement afforded by healthcare IT. Michael Leavitt, former Secretary of HHS and chair of the American Health Information Community (AHIC) will lead the Romney transition team and Leavitt has years of experience with healthcare IT issues from the early days of ONC. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported the early EHR rollout efforts of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.
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.
How to slow Medicare’s escalating costs has been the big health care policy issue this month, with Republicans and Democrats offering competing proposals, each part of broader plans for reducing the federal deficit—projected to be $1.5 trillion this year, with the government borrowing 40 cents for every dollar it spends.
Unfortunately, neither the Medicare proposal of Representative Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee, nor that offered in response by President Obama, can be considered realistic.
Both proposals do have some merits. Representative Ryan’s plan for switching Medicare to a quasi-voucher premium support program in which beneficiaries would pay part of the premium for their choice of health plan could make seniors more cost conscious and introduce more competition among insurers. President Obama’s proposed strengthening of the Independent Payment Advisory Board provision of the ACA by lowering the trigger point for IPAB action would force further efforts to reduce costs, while doing much to remove Medicare policy from lobbyist-vulnerable political considerations. Both, if implemented, would effectively guarantee that federal Medicare expenditures would drop dramatically from current projections.
Neither, however, has any chance of enactment. The Congressional Budget Office’s projection of the average 65-year-old paying more than two-thirds of the cost of Medicare coverage by 2030—and more than twice as much as under the present program—almost certainly dooms Representative Ryan’s proposal. (The CBO’s assumption of the continuation of the differential between traditional Medicare and insurers’ equivalent offerings can be questioned, but it’s the forecast of the unfortunate 65-year-old’s 68 percent share of the tab that will resonate for seniors, their lobbyists, and their political supporters.)Continue reading…
During the last election campaign, Tea Party-backed Republicans across the country rode to power on a tidal wave of advertising attacking health care reform as a cut in Medicare. It is. If efficiency programs like the accountable care organizations being formed across the country don’t hold down spending by about $500 billion over the next decade, an Independent Payments Advisory Board would make recommendations for holding growth in Medicare spending to the growth in the domestic economy (GDP) plus one percentage point.
In most years when the economy is humming along, that would be about 4 percent. Over the past decade, health care spending for seniors grew at about 6 to 7 percent — the same as health care spending for the rest of the population. So if the Medicare delivery system reforms don’t work, Congress will either have to adopt the IPAB’s recommendations or institute cuts of its own to ratchet down spending.
This week, President Obama upped the ante to meet his budget deficit reduction targets over the next decade. Medicare spending would be held to GDP plus 0.5 percent, another approximately $300 billion in cuts. About $50 billion would come from eliminating unnecessary errors and hospital re-admissions. The rest was unexplained.Continue reading…
It is hard to see how the health care plan the President released this week changes anything.
There is nothing new in it save a health insurance rate regulatory board that is an awkward political proposal at best. What powers would it really have and how would it operate in conjunction with the states already
charged with insurance company oversight are just two of the first questions it does not answer.
Fundamentally, what good would insurance rate regulation do if the President’s plan has only tepid cost containment built into it in the first place?
There are not the votes in the House right now to pass this new proposal—or the Senate bill. There are not likely even the votes in the Senate under a 51-vote rule for the President’s new plan.
That could change if the President scores a game changer on Thursday at Blair House that finally moves the polls from the 40% approval rating Democrats have had on health care to something over 50%.
You might be wondering why I haven’t written about the President’s Health care bill. The reason is that I have very little to say.
This, I realize, is unusual. But the truth is that the president’s proposal is very similar to the Senate bill—which is not a surprise.
Nevertheless, I am very glad to see the proposal. I was worried that the White House had put reform on the back burner.
Will it pass? As always, I’m trying to be optimistic. But I think that everything depends on whether the White House decides to twist arms. The president will have to persuade House liberals that this is a good first step—and that we can worry about improving the plan over the next three years.
I would still like to see a public option, and I hope that, in the end, the federal government will wind up overseeing the state-based exchanges. But the legislation doesn’t goes into effect until 2014; that gives us more than enough time to improve on it.
The President also will need to keep an eye on Senate moderates. I would favor sending Joe Lieberman on a special mission to South Korea. A relative who is stationed there tells me that the demilitarized zone is particularly bleak this time of year.
There is no need to worry about the Republicans. They can be counted on to vote against any reform bill that even attempts substantive reform. Universal coverage is not their top priority, and they definitely don’t want to pay for it.
In his Washington Post column this week Dan Balz wonders whether Evan Bayh was overstating the degree of partisanship in Congress and whether, notwithstanding that, he should have stuck around to deal with the problem.
I don’t think any of us have been alive long enough to know whether the first is true. Politics always seems at its worst when you are in the middle of it. It may be, though, that the existence of social media has made it more combative, for the old-style behind-the-scenes sausage making is no longer possible. Also, clever users of these media can create a “movement” in just a few hours, pushing positions to the extreme. Though politicians have become experts in using social media to run election campaigns, they have not yet figured out how to use these tools to help build bipartisan coalitions to govern.
And, on the second, we have no right to judge this gentleman on his personal decision. If he no longer wants to try to stay in Washington to work on the problem, there will be plenty of other candidates. No one is indispensable.Continue reading…
I love Daniel Schorr. I’ve never met him in person, but I love his voice and his insights about politics on NPR’s Weekend Edition. But this morning I was disappointed. After listening to his comments on the Olympics and Iran, I looked forward with anticipation to his thoughts about the Senate Finance Committee’s accomplishments earlier this week on health reform legislation. When asked whether a “real health care bill” is likely to pass later this year, he said, “Well, it begins to look more [likely] . . . that there will be a bill. The question is not whether there will be a bill . . . but what will be left in the bill, because so many things have been taken out.” I could almost hear him sigh. He went on to talk about the fact that the public option is not a part of the Senate Finance bill, although it might be restored in full or part (through a trigger mechanism or health cooperatives) as the bill moves through Congress. Let’s step back for a minute. (This is what I usually rely on Schorr to do for us.) Where were we a year ago? Although advocates of health reform were encouraged that the health care crisis was getting a lot of attention in the Presidential election campaign, the outlook was not rosy. Obama and McCain were neck and neck, and McCain’s reform proposal was so weak as to be laughable. The pundits and pollsters were predicting that the Democrats would get about 56 seats in the Senate – not enough to overcome a filibuster. And there was serious concern that even if Obama were elected, health reform would be crowded out by other major crises – the threat of a serious economic depression, the banking collapse, Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran, energy and global climate change, and who knows what else. In October 2008, the likelihood of serious comprehensive health reform was probably about 25%.