Like many health policy experts, I’ve closely followed and participated in the debate over the Affordable Care Act. I’ve spoken at town hall events, fielded questions from reporters, and discussed the ACA with students, friends, and colleagues.I have been asked a wide range of questions about the ACA, but I am always amazed by the one topic that almost never seems to come up: how the deeply indebted federal government will pay the roughly $200 billion annual cost of expanding coverage.
The inattention to the financing of the ACA by the public, the media, and even Republicans is a testament to the skill of its drafters. The benefits of the ACA are highly visible, the costs are concealed.
Consider the ACA’s treatment of Medicare hospital reimbursements. Reimbursements to hospitals increase from year to year based on the projected increase in hospitals’ labor and capital costs. The ACA reduces the rate of growth in payments by 0.1 percentage points per year plus an additional factor based on projected economy-wide productivity growth. It is possible that the application of these factors will result in a net reduction in payments, but, more likely, payments will not increase by as much as they would have in the absence of the law.
This provision, which will raise $64 billion in 2020, may result in the closure of some hospitals and reduce quality in those that remain open. However, these effects are uncertain and difficult to summarize in a soundbite.
Other financing provisions are only slightly less obtuse. About one quarter of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in private health plans, the so-called Medicare Advantage plans. The ACA will revamp the formula used to set payments to these plans for a savings of $19 billion in 2020. The ACA will reduce subsidies to so-called Disproportionate Share Hospitals (hospitals that serve a large number of low-income patients) for a 2020 savings of $9 billion.
A year and a half ago, my husband, James Morgan, and I moved back to the U.S. after living 10 years in France.
We returned more or less kicking and screaming. We had been away long enough to lose some of our American culture and to prefer the European way of life, despite our squabbles with it–and every American abroad has some squabbles. I had discovered I was a born expat, something I’d suspected my entire adult life — from my first trip to Europe when I was 19 years old–but hadn’t arranged to test until my younger daughter graduated from high school. Jim and I are both writers, and I’d thought of a book idea for him (Chasing Matisse) that would take us to France, and my intention was for us to stay there.
But there were things we’d left undone for the 10 years we’d been away that needing tending to — life was calling us back. And if the truth be known, I felt France was falling behind in the world, and her inability to change was grating. Paris was stuck in her perpetual stupendous, effervescent beauty, while nothing new happened there at all. This city I love more than any other had long since lost the artistic dynamism that had propelled it forward with Picasso, Matisse, and the other artists that the Lost Generation had adopted and promoted in the early part of the 20th century, when Malcolm Cowley wrote his classic Exile’s Return.
The World Wars had crippled France for a time, and she had gotten back on her feet. But what the French do so very well is the past — not the present or future — and this is even truer in our digital global society. The French refusal to change defines the Gallic nation in every way imaginable, and the centuries-long celebration of their grand culture is what we love about them — and is also placing them in the rear of the international pack.
Except for this — their Number One in the World (as determined by the World Health Organization) health care system.
One of the things I most dreaded about returning to America was having to deal with a health care system that was an embarrassing national wreck.
Over the next few months, Jacob Reider will serve as the interim National Coordinator for Healthcare IT while the search continues for Farzad Mostashari’s permanent replacement.
What advice would I give to the next national coordinator?
David Blumenthal led ONC during a period of remarkable regulatory change and expanding budgets. He was the right person for the “regulatory era.”
Farzad Mostashari led ONC during a period of implementation when resources peaked, grants were spent, and the industry ran marathons every day to keep up with the pace of change. He was the right person for the “implementation era”
The next coordinator will preside over the “consolidate our gains” era. Grants largely run out in January 2014. Budgets are likely to shrink because of sequestration and the impact of fiscal pressures (when the Federal government starts operating again). Many regulatory deadlines converge in the next coordinator’s term.
The right person for this next phase must listen to stakeholder challenges, adjust timelines, polish existing regulations, ensure the combined burden of regulations from many agencies in HHS do not break the camel’s back, and keep Congress informed every step of the way. I did not include parting the Red Sea, so maybe there is a mere human who could do this.
What tools does the coordinator have in an era of shrinking budgets?
At present, Meaningful Use Stage 2, ICD-10, the Affordable Care Act, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, and numerous CMS imperatives have overlapping timelines, making it nearly impossible for provider organizations to maintain operations while complying with all the new requirements.
Can resources be expanded?
There is an ancient Arabic proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” With this in mind, I can’t help but think that whatever Senator and leading Tea Party blowhard Ted Cruz opposes must be good. When Cruz decided to try to shut down America because he opposes Obamacare , well that sealed the deal for me. I say “Obamacare forever.”
Readers know that I think Obamacare has too many rules that create problems for payers and providers alike, and relies on some questionable practices for funding. I don’t like the rush to form ACOs or the lack of serious cost-effectiveness analysis (admittedly a concession to Republicans.) But Obamacare beats the hell (sorry Ted) out of Cruzcare, which, as far as I can tell, goes something like this: “Didn’t put aside enough money for that life-saving operation? Here is a prayer that might help.”
I used to sort of be a Republican. I voted for Bush (I won’t say which one in order to avoid embarrassment) and voted against Obama more than once (living in Illinois I had several opportunities.) And I hate that Obama is playing at President like someone playing poker with a winning hand.
This isn’t supposed to be about which politician claims the biggest pot for himself. But I will take a selfish and somewhat scornful Obama over Ted Cruz and the Tea Cozies any and every day of the week. And I will work to find the best Democratic leaders if all the Republicans can offer is Cruz and his TCs.
Shut down the government to finally fund Medicare and Social Security? Maybe. Shut down the government to achieve a rational tax code? Sure. Shut down the government to balance the budget? Now we are talking. But shut down the government to block the opening of the health insurance exchanges? How absurd!
We may be getting a better idea why the federal exchange and so many state exchanges aren’t working.
An article in Saturday’s Baltimore Sun, regarding Maryland’s problems, provides insight I have not seen elsewhere:
Problems began immediately after the exchange launched Tuesday, as people tried to create accounts and log onto the site.
State officials blamed the account creation process, in which people were routed to a federal questionnaire to verify their identity. The system, they said, became overwhelmed when so many people tried to access it.
So, it appears all of the exchanges are facing the same bottleneck at the federal level–the identity verification software the feds are running for themselves and the state exchanges.
Then the Sun article provided more insight:
Requiring people to create accounts to access the system may be one of the problems, said Jonathan Wu, co-founder of consumer finance website ValuePenguin, who has a computer science background. Some states, including Kentucky [which as been about the only state running well], let people browse insurance plans without an account, which was only needed to purchase insurance. Kentucky did not have as big a backlog, he said.
“It’s kind of an architectural and software issue,” Wu said. “You are not accounting for how people want to use the system.”
With personal accounts, the computer system has to work harder, storing information about everyone who accesses the website, he said. It also has to repeatedly confirm the identity of the person, which also can bog down the system, Wu said. He noted that all the functions on the website that don’t require an account have run smoothly.
“It has to match your account every step you make,” Wu said. “This causes extra overhead.”
What do Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Sigmund Freud and Barack Obama have in common? They all championed controversial medical revolutions and if not for their bravery in the face of conflict, billions would have died.
Sterilize instruments to kill invisible bugs? Inject disease particles to build immunity? Look into our subconscious to explain everyday behavior? Give basic healthcare to everyone? Ludicrous. That is why we named these advances after these men.
As an oncologist who has seen the fatal cost of our patchy, imbalanced and unfair healthcare system, I have to be at very least hopeful about ObamaCare; AKA the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The list of benefits is so vast that whatever glitches happen along the way, I know that cancer patients will be helped:
-No pre-existing condition exclusion: So the 31-year-old programmer with Stage 1 breast cancer can change jobs without losing insurance.
-Healthcare coverage by parents until their child is 26: So families will not lose their homes paying for Hodgkin’ s disease in a 22-year-old.
-Guaranteed payment by insurers for patients entering experimental trials: So patients with any insurance can be involved in research, and everyone benefits from the latest advances.
-Free healthcare screening: So that my 58-year-old neighbor with a family history of colon cancer gets routine exams and life saving colonoscopies.
-Uniform healthcare insurance standards: So that the 45-year-old man with stomach lymphoma I saw last week, does not have to suffer and die because his employer brought a health policy, which excluded chemotherapy.
After spending more than two hours in the waiting room, I once again tried to create an account at healthcare.gov so my family could #GetCovered – as instructed by President Obama and Secretary Sebelius.
My first attempt at setting up an account today was thwarted when healthcare.gov said the user name I attempted to use was no good:
Ack! It says the username already exists? This was the username I had set up on Day One (backstory here), but the system ultimately didn’t recognize it. I feared some other Tony Jewell had used my cleverly placed underscore.
As enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) new health care markets, or exchanges as they are also known, begins, much of the debate over the law is focused on insurance: Who will get coverage? How much will premiums cost? Should our state expand Medicaid? Yet health insurance is not an end in itself.
The point of insurance is to help people get the health care they need at prices they can afford and, in the event of serious injury or accident, to protect them from catastrophically high medical bills. What often gets lost in the debate is how the new law will affect Americans’ ability to buy health care.
While relatively little will change for most people who already get their insurance through employers, an estimated 49 million Americans will be affected by the new law, either becoming newly insured or changing their source of coverage. How will these changes affect consumer health care spending? Will the Affordable Care Act live up to its name?
Of course, ultimately only time and experience will tell. But in the meantime, the law is being implemented, and policymakers and consumers confronting the new health care market are seeking answers about the law’s likely impact, beyond politicized charges and countercharges about whether it will succeed.
Using the COMPARE microsimulation model, my RAND colleagues and I examined how the ACA will affect spending by consumers who are insured for the first time or who change coverage as a result of the law. Specifically, we looked at out-of-pocket spending (spending at the point of sale — copays, deductibles, and coinsurance, which is the fraction of spending not covered by insurance); total spending on health care, which includes out-of-pocket spending plus insurance premiums; and consumers’ risk of high medical care costs.
The analysis focused on 2016, the first year in which penalties for not complying with the individual mandate will be fully in effect, and considered two scenarios: one in which the ACA is fully in place and another that estimates outcomes without the ACA.
“Well, Facebook Wasn’t Built In a Day.” – Unnamed Exchange Developer.
More than 4.8 million users visited Healthcare.gov for the grand opening of the federal health insurance marketplace on Tuesday, according to officials.
It didn’t go quite as planners had hoped. In fact, if there was an unofficial word of the day, it was glitch.
Many users of Healthcare.gov reported long delays and difficulty accessing the federal insurance marketplace, experiencing “glitches” ranging from error messages to blank pages. The problems were repeated at state-run exchanges around the country to varying degree, from California to New York.
Pundits like Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein were quick to point out that the political victory the GOP might have gained from the uncertain start was largely lost in the uproar in Washington over the government shutdown, which dominated news reports.
At least one frustrated user chronicled the experience (see related post ‘Descent into Madness: One Man’s Visit to Healthcare.gov, October 1st ). Others took to Twitter to express their outrage or show off their savage or finely-tuned senses of humor.
Users of the federal exchange reported problems including error messages (see above), funky dropdown menu behavior, page freezes, blips, broken links and long page load times — generally either a sign of high volume or inelegantly designed databases.
HHS officials declined to reveal how many people signed up for new insurance plans overall, leading some theorists to speculate that not very many people were able to make it through the process successfully. In point of fact, there were suspiciously few reports of users successfully completing the registration process at all, probably not a very good sign and possibly an indication of a disaster.Continue reading…
The shutdown could not stop the rollout of the state and federal exchanges.
That’s because the Obama administration, sensing a political fight in the offing with Republicans, wisely prepaid the bill for the insurance exchanges and other key components of the rollout.
On the other hand, the fiscal standoff is having a very real impact on the infrastructure that supports healthcare across the United States. Agencies from the Centers for Disease and Control to the National Institutes of Health have seen their money turned off. Others have seen their staffing levels sharply reduced with non-essential employees furloughed.
It doesn’t take a wild imagination to imagine potential deadly consequences if something goes wrong. If for example, flu season strikes early or a drug recall is needed. Much of the pain will be felt over time. As the shutdown drags on, you can expect problems that are brewing under the surface to become much more visible …
Here’s a review of what’s happening:
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
Funding for monitoring of disease outbreaks turned off. Lab operations sharply scaled back. 24/7 operations center to remain online. With some scientists predicting a severe 2013-2014 flu season, this is cause for concern …
National Institutes For Health
Enrollment in new clinical trials suspended, impacting thousands of patients suffering from serious diseases. No action on grant proposals. Minimal support for ongoing protocols.
Food and Drug Administration
Food safety inspections sharply cut back. Monitoring of imports eliminated. Oversight of production facilities curtailed, again potentially an issue with flu season on the way.The good news? Because drug approvals are funded by industry “user-fees” FDA approvals of new drugs will continue.
Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services
Key ACA related operations intact. The bad news for docs and patients – claims and payment processing expected to continue but with slower service than usual. With purse strings tight, this is likely to become more of a problem as shutdown drags on. In the unlikely event that a shutdown continues for more than a month, the impact on physician practices could be much more serious.