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Tag: The States

The Brave New World (of Health Insurance Exchanges)

New York Times reporter Abby Goodnough’s piece last week about the health insurance exchange in Massachusetts is instructive—especially since other states are trying to set up their own versions of these shopping bazaars where the uninsured can buy coverage if the health reform law eventually takes effect. For the last three years we have been suggesting there’s an untold story in the Bay State about how the law is working, so we were glad to see Goodnough’s reporting and offer a tip of the hat.

Goodnough gets into the subject with a success story: the tale of Peter Kim, who lost his employer-sponsored health insurance in 2005 when he opted for a career as an independent consultant. He found that shopping for insurance in the open market was a complicated affair, and that most plans were too expensive. He eventually chose coverage for catastrophic illness.

Then he discovered his state’s health insurance exchange, called the Connector. After just an hour of research, he found a plan with a monthly premium of only $1,086, a better deal than the coverage he previously had. And ideally, that’s how exchanges should work, Goodnough said.

The trouble, she reports, is that so far the Connector has not drawn enough full-paying customers like Peter Kim.

As Goodnough notes, the exchanges have drawn little journalistic scrutiny so far, despite their key place in health reform. (And, we note, despite the fact that they grew out of initiatives backed by former Massachusetts governor and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.)

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Romney’s Response to ObamaCare

Mitt Romney’s entire career reflects a businesslike approach. On the one hand he has been willing to act boldly to solve problems. On the other hand he has been willing to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. The latest Romney pronouncements on health policy are consistent with that history.

As President Obama has said on many occasions, ObamaCare is based on a health reform Governor Romney spearheaded in Massachusetts. But blindly copying a health reform — while ignoring what’s really worth copying and what’s not — is hardly sensible presidential leadership.

Here is what is good about the Massachusetts health reform: (1) Governor Romney brought both parties together to achieve genuine bipartisan reform (something Barack Obama failed at miserably at the national level); (2) he cut the insurance rate in half by giving substantial tax relief to people who must purchase their own insurance, and (3) he did all this without raising taxes.

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Without Patient-Centered Health Plans, It’s the Same Tired Script

As the next act of the Massachusetts health care drama plays out on Beacon Hill, the same characters return to the stage with a tired script. The ostensible hero of the production, the patient, is left to watch the tragedy from the back row.

Legislation being debated on Beacon Hill ignores patient-centered health plans and health savings accounts, or HSAs, which are lower-premium insurance plans that direct pre-tax dollars into a bank account to cover an individual’s current health care and save money for future medical expenses. An HSA is the most direct way to engage patients in the health system. They cover out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses, are fully portable, and owned by individuals for their entire lives.

Unlike the self-interested solutions of insurers, providers, and government, HSAs are a proven way to contain the cost of care.

Nationwide, 11.4 million people of all ages and income levels purchase patient-centered plans, up over 250 percent from 2006, when they were created. Among HSA account holders, fully half earn less than $60,000; almost three-quarters have children; and about half are over 40.

Safeway, one of America’s largest supermarket chains, rolled out a patient-centered plan in 2006; per capita health care spending shrank 13 percent, and costs remained flat for four consecutive years.

Safeway’s plans have reduced employee obesity and smoking rates to roughly 30 percent below national averages. This health dividend is priceless as 70 percent of health care costs are directly related to lifestyle decisions.

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Give Big Tobacco a Kick in the Ash and Save Lives

What could be more pressing than ending suffering and death from cancer — a disease that kills 155 people every day in California?

A yes vote on Proposition 29 on June 5 to increase the tobacco tax by $1 will save lives from cancer and other lethal diseases caused by tobacco, protect kids from the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing, ease the enormous economic burden of tobacco use on the state and fund groundbreaking medical research on the leading killer diseases.

Yes on 29 is an opportunity to tell Big Tobacco that enough is enough. That we’re tired of the industry’s relentless assault on our children, our health and our economy. Proposition 29 was written by the state’s leading public health groups – the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association – to empower Californians to fight back against Big Tobacco’s ongoing campaign of addiction and death. Proposition 29 will also help reverse tobacco’s debilitating drag on California’s economy, saving the state billions of dollars in health costs.

The tobacco industry spends every minute of every day surreptitiously recruiting new customers: our kids. During the past decade, Big Tobacco invested 10 times more on marketing its deadly products in California than the state spent on educating the public about its harmful effects. The tobacco industry spends more than $650 million each year targeting our state with deceptive marketing designed to recruit their next generation of customers – and has already spent nearly $40 million to distort the truth on Proposition 29.

The industry’s efforts are devastatingly proficient: California’s kids buy or smoke more than 78 million packs of cigarettes each year. Nearly 90 percent of the smokers in California started smoking before their 18th birthday.

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Red or Blue Pill for Payment Reform? Both Won’t Work

Are the House and Senate giving us a false choice for how to control health care costs in Massachusetts? Aren’t there other options?

A few major themes have emerged from the two payment reform proposals and highlight the fact that they fail to align incentives for patients to be more involved in the purchase of their health insurance and their health care.

For example, even with full transparency of cost and quality (which is a huge lift on its own) for many patients, high-cost still correlates with higher quality in medicine. A recent report from Attorney General Coakley proved this theory wrong, but simply providing patients with cost data without placing the right incentives in their health plan to choose the low-cost high-quality provider will result in many selecting the most expensive care. As a result, these proposals will fall short of sustainably bending the cost curve.

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The Great Experiment


If you read only one book about state and federal health care policy, it should be The Great Experiment: The States, the Feds and Your Healthcare.  Published by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, it is the most articulate and rigorous presentation of issues that I have seen, a stark contrast from many papers, articles, and speeches that slide by as “informed debate” in Massachusetts and across the country.  I learned more about health care policy from this book than from anything else I have read in the last decade.

While the book is constructed as a number of chapters by experts in field, it has a consistent voice and and is highly readable.  There is an engaging explanation by Jennifer Heldt Powell of the politics and substance of how the Massachusetts health care reform bill came into being; and there is also a data-rich analysis by Amy Lischko and Josh Archambault of how it is working.  But the book is quick to point out that what has happened in Massachusetts is unlikely to be an appropriate model for the nation.

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Is Romneycare A Budget Buster?

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) put out a report late last week on the cost of Massachusetts health reform. The number from the report that has gotten the most media attention has been– $91 million.

Over the five full fiscal years since the law was implemented, the incremental additional state cost per year has averaged $91 million…

This is a very strange way to interpret the cost data. Here is the breakdown from the report:

The better number to highlight would be the incremental increase each year over the 2006 baseline.

If you add this up and divide by 5, you come up with an average over the 2006 baseline of $738 million, and a state share of $369 million per year. That is a much different story than the $91 million being widely reported.

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If the Supreme Court Kills ObamaCare, Should We Thank Mitt Romney?

There is no doubt that the campaign to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare will have its weakest standard bearer if Mitt Romney becomes the Republican candidate for President. His embrace of an “individual mandate” to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, as legislated in his 2006 Massachusetts health reform, is anathema to those faithful to the ideal of limited government. When Mr. Romney declares that he will issue a universal waiver from ObamaCare’s regulations as his first executive order, the people who should be voting for him fear that such action would be a substitute for repeal, instead of a preparation for it. (Do these folks really think a clean repeal bill, like the one passed by the House of Representatives in January 2010, will be on the president’s desk on inauguration day?)

But maybe we should look at it another way: If Mitt Romney had never signed his 2006 law (which was motivated, as the president’s men are so fond of telling us, but an idea generated at The Heritage Foundation), those of us committed to defeating ObamaCare would never be in the fortunate position we are today – the whole, ungodly mess hanging by a thin thread after a brutal hazing in the Supreme Court last week.

Without Massachusetts’ 2006 law, there is almost no likelihood that the Democrats would have written an individual mandate into the bill. Instead, they would have just hiked taxes. The only reason they painted a thin varnish of so-called “individual responsibility” onto the bill was so that they could pin some of the blame on Mitt Romney and certain conservatives who had embraced it. As noted by Avik Roy, the individual mandate was traditionally anathema to liberals, who prefer straight-forward tax hikes.

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Romney’s Second Shot at Healthcare Reform

Americans believe in second chances. The oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week were a rare opportunity to dispassionately re-examine the divisive healthcare debate of two years ago. What happens if, after the smoke clears, we get a second chance at healthcare reform?

We’ve long known that healthcare will be a central theme in the 2012 presidential contest. The High Court’s deliberations and June decision only reinforce that reality for President Obama and Governor Romney.

Unlike with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the constitutionality of Governor Romney’s Massachusetts law has never been seriously questioned. States, not the federal government, have police powers, allowing them to require purchases (car insurance, taxes and licensure) and to pass wide-ranging public health laws and public safety laws. The Bay State law enjoys broad popular support.

In contrast, the case before the Supreme Court was brought by the majority of states. Regardless of what the Court decides, the PPACA will continue to polarize the country.

President Obama may cite Romney’s Massachusetts reform as inspiring his efforts, but there are profound differences in the size, reach and financing of the two laws. Elected just six months after the law’s passage, Romney’s successor, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, has obscured some of those differences by taking a big government approach to implementation.

Where Romney sought an open marketplace for individuals to purchase benefit plans ranging from catastrophic to generous, Patrick has drastically limited choices and mandated minimum coverage levels beyond private-market norms.

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Learning from Massachusetts’ Health Care Experiment

Former Gov. Mitt Romney has taken considerable heat during the Republican primaries for the health-care legislation that passed while he was in office.

Sadly, election-year politics have overshadowed the real lessons of Massachusetts’ experiment.

The core question then-Gov. Romney was trying to answer was this: Should Massachusetts continue to pay hospitals more than $1 billion a year to care for the poor, or should it create a way for individuals to purchase their own insurance?

Romney’s original proposal was simple: Stop subsidizing expensive hospital care and instead require all residents to carry at least catastrophic insurance. Anything beyond that would be a matter of individual choice. The idea was to prevent taxpayers from having to pick up the tab for people unable or unwilling to pay for their own medical care.

To facilitate reform, Romney’s plan established a central agency, an “exchange,” where individuals could buy health insurance directly.

Though the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature amended Romney’s proposal, the new law, if properly implemented, could have made the health-care market far more customer-focused.

But that didn’t happen. Just months after the law was passed Romney’s successor, Democrat Deval Patrick, became responsible for implementing the 2006 law. Since then, almost every key bureaucratic decision has leaned toward government control and away from individual decision-making and the market.

For example, the exchange’s idea of “minimum coverage” is equal to some of the most generous plans in other states. Additionally, roughly 40 percent of the people in the exchange pay no monthly premium for insurance, while small businesses have been hit with a variety of onerous requirements. Instead of creating a market with many choices, insurance has been over-standardized and the number of available plans limited, curbing innovation in plan design.

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