Posts Tagged ‘2012 election’

MLK & Healthcare Reform

Monday, January 30th, 2012

A recent byline article in Forbes magazine by Carolyn McClanahan, M.D., CFP, raises many issues about healthcare in the year 2012.  According to McClanahan “The New England Journal of Medicine’s (NEJM) article on the fate of healthcare reform in 2012 greatly saddens the optimist in me. It discusses four important events, and I’ll share my “simplistic view” of these events:

“State legislatures getting in gear to fill their role assigned by the ACA.  As I’ve discussed previously, we have a complicated healthcare system which is expensive and inefficient.  Instead of simplifying, each state will implement or delay implementing the law based solely on their political interest.  This is not productive.”

“The second event is the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of the ACA in May. It is possible that the entire law could be struck down, (albeit unlikely).  If this scenario plays out, we will have wasted billions implementing parts of the law to date.  Another more likely scenario is the law will be upheld but the mandate that everyone purchase health insurance be thrown out.  This would severely weaken the law because people will only buy insurance when they are sick.  There will still be a requirement that insurance companies have to sell insurance to everyone regardless of health status.  This is not financially feasible.  Most likely, the law will stand, but who really knows?”

“The third key event is the deadline for states to apply for federal grants to operate their health insurance exchange.  State who don’t apply will either have to cede control of the exchanges to the federal government or pay for the cost of implementation themselves.  State governors and legislatures against the ACA, like my home state of Florida, risk turning away resources and having more of the federal government running the show.  Talk about the law of unintended consequences.”

“The fourth key date is the election in November.  If President Obama wins re-election, implementation will continue.  If he loses, the winner will have a difficult time repealing the law unless the Republicans can win 60 seats in the Senate.  So what is their plan?  Have everyone drag their feet on implementation or do a half-baked job.  Wouldn’t it be nice if instead they came up with a good plan to fix the parts that are not working?  Simplify and clean up the mess of the insurance part of the law and implement with speed and clarity the good parts like preventive care initiatives, rebuilding our primary care workforce, and improving our ability to handle large disasters.”

A similar viewpoint was expressed by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said that access to healthcare is the next civil rights frontier.  According to Sebelius, “On Martin Luther King Day, it is easy to congratulate ourselves on our progress in moving beyond segregated schools, lunch counters and drinking fountains. The hard question is this: what injustices do we still accept that should, in fact, be intolerable?  Surely Dr. King would find the next civil rights frontier in healthcare, with nearly 50 million uninsured, almost 45,000 deaths annually due to lack of insurance, and more than half of all personal bankruptcies linked to illness and medical bills.”

“While the Affordable Care Act will bring improvements, such as decreasing the ranks of the uninsured, supporting community health centers, and investing in prevention, it leaves many gaps. At least 23 million people will still be uninsured in 2019. Tens of millions will be underinsured, one serious illness away from financial ruin. Most people who suffer medical bankruptcy had private insurance before getting sick. And medical bankruptcy is a cruel double whammy. Already beset with pain, anxiety and fear – due to serious illness – families find themselves financially devastated.  This doesn’t happen in other industrialized countries, which have high-quality health systems that cover everyone.”

As a department, we are committed to ensuring that all Americans achieve health equity by eliminating disparities and doing what we can to improve the health of all groups, including the poor and underserved,” Sebelius said. “One of the most important ways we are doing this is through our new health care law, the Affordable Care Act.”

Will Cuts in Healthcare Save the Federal Budget?

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Healthcare budget and policy experts are waiting for Washington to eventually face the difficult task of finding even more savings to cut the deficit.  They anticipate that health spending — which makes up more than 20 percent of the federal budget — will be targeted.  Some healthcare leaders are already planning to redirect a debate they’re expecting in 2013.  They hope to prevent spending from being shifted from one part of the system to another.  Jack Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology, said that proposals to address the basic causes of high healthcare costs have mostly been ignored in Washington.

“We talk about them all the time, but there’s nothing that we’re doing in any of these proposals to get that done,” Lewin said.  “What we would like to get on the table that’s not there is a paradigm shift in thinking about how you control costs.”  According to Thomas Scully, a former Medicare administrator under President George W. Bush and now a senior counsel at Alston & Bird, an Atlanta-based law firm, “There’s going to be a Round Two (of cuts), but after the election, because of the economic pressures exerted by the national debt.”

Proposals include reducing payments to providers; asking beneficiaries to pay more for coverage; and raising the Medicare eligibility age.  The healthcare interests that might take another hit in 2013 want to start planning now.  Several key healthcare leaders – the majority of whom have been through other cost-cutting campaigns — say efforts to reduce spending too often transfer costs from the federal budget and individuals, insurers, doctors and hospitals.

These worries have caused “people from dramatically different quarters to start thinking about what to do to get their hands around this” and redirect the conversation, said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans.  “I’ve been talking to a range of stakeholders about how to work together…to urge policymakers to look at what’s already out there now and build on it.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one element of this debate.  Administration officials and other supporters of the law say it will help drive down costs through initiatives designed to promote primary care, emphasize on preventive medicine, study treatments to evaluate their effectiveness and rate hospitals and other providers on quality.  Other healthcare authorities counter that the law will not strongly impact costs because its reforms are small and will mature incrementally.

Additionally, the law saves money by cutting Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers; it also places some unwelcome standards on health plans.  For example, insurers cannot reject people with pre-existing conditions, must justify rate increases of 10 percent or more, and send rebates to consumers if they don’t spend a minimum of 80 percent of premiums on healthcare.

Writing in the Washington Post, Drew Altman and Larry Levitt – both with the Kaiser Family Foundation — note that “Healthcare costs are driving people into poverty.  Indeed, if the burden of healthcare expenses were not taken into account, then 10 million fewer people would have been classified as poor.  One of the biggest jumps in poverty under the new method is among people with private health insurance.  We tend to think of such people, most of whom get coverage through their jobs, as being better equipped to handle the cost of getting sick.  But even those who are insured are increasingly vulnerable to high healthcare costs, in no small part because, as costs keep rising, employers have shifted more of the burden onto workers.  The share of employees with an insurance deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage has tripled in the past five years.  The trend is especially strong among small businesses, where half of workers faced a deductible of at least $1,000 in 2011.  For those on the edge of poverty, a big medical bill could send you over it — even if you have insurance.  The effect of healthcare costs is particularly acute for the elderly, with the proportion of seniors living in poverty increasing from nine percent under the official census measure to 16 percent under the alternative measure.  An astounding 49 percent of seniors are living at or below twice the poverty level, a threshold at which people are still considered low-income (up from 35 percent under the official method).

“It’s up to us to get really serious with the agenda so that, when the time comes after the election, we are prepared to offer serious proposals that deal with costs and that do not impair the quality of care,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer group Families USA.

Half of Americans Support Obamacare Repeal

Monday, November 28th, 2011

A recent Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans support the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), compared with the 42 percent who want the law kept in place.  The remaining 11 percent offered no opinion.  In an ironic twist, the survey also determined that half of Americans believe the federal government has a responsibility to make certain that all citizens have healthcare coverage, compared with 46 percent who do not.

“Views on this issue are highly partisan, with Republicans strongly in favor of repeal and the large majority of Democrats wanting the law kept in place,” according to Gallup.

Republicans claim that the healthcare law is unconstitutional because of the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance.  Approximately eight in 10 Republicans think Congress should repeal the healthcare law, including 54 percent who want the entire law thrown out.  Democrats have an opposing view: 60 percent support keeping the healthcare law as is.  Independents are split.

Fully 80 percent of Republicans support repeal, while a mere 10 percent support the law.  Democrats, not surprisingly support the healthcare law by 64 – 21 percent.  The intensity of the issue on both sides is also striking.  Among those who favor repeal of the so-called Obamacare, 66 percent say it is a “very important” issue.  Fully 60 percent of the ACA’s supporters described it is a “very important” issue.

Another finding of the survey is that 56 percent of respondents prefer an insurance system run by private companies; while 39 percent prefer a government-run system.

Writing for CBS News, Jennifer De Pinto says that “Even though overall support for the healthcare law is mixed, majorities have favored some individual elements of the law, including requiring health insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26.  However, the provision that requires all Americans get health insurance is not as popular.  A CNN/ORC Poll conducted this past summer found 54 percent of Americans oppose that provision.”

In a poll taken by the Kaiser Foundation, 34 percent said they view the law either “very” (12 percent) or “somewhat” (22 percent) favorably while 51 percent saw it in either as “somewhat” (20 percent) or “very” (31 percent) unfavorably.  In April 2010, the favorable view of the law was 50 percent only one time (July 2010).  With the exception of the October dip, support has generally been between 39 and 43 percent since the start of this year.  Even as the overall bill remains consistently unpopular, parts of it — including the individual mandate, which would require all Americans to carry health insurance — are viewed more positively.

Even if the Supreme Court overturns the ACA or it is repealed, President Barack Obama said that the healthcare law he signed in 2010 represents “a reform that will finally make sure that nobody goes bankrupt in America just because they get sick.”  Obama said the law assures coverage for people with preexisting medical conditions and is the kind of change he promised during the 2008 presidential campaign.  “Everything we fought for in the last election is now at stake in the next election,” Obama said.  “The very core of what this country stands for is on the line.”

Polls: Most Americans Oppose Changes to Medicare

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Americans have mixed feelings about what changes should be made to the popular Medicare program. Although 53 percent say the program needs fundamental changes, 58 percent say it is working fine the way it is.  Americans were asked to decide which of three statements is closest to their viewpoints: “Medicare works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better”; “There are some good things about Medicare, but fundamental changes are needed”; or “Medicare has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.”

Twenty-seven percent – including 36 percent of Democrats – believe that only minor changes are needed.  Another 13 percent said the program needs to be completely rebuilt.  Fully 53 percent said Medicare needs fundamental changes — even though the program has many good points.  People who want basic changes include a majority of Republicans and independents, though just 43 percent of Democrats support the plan.  A majority of Americans between ages 18 and 64 want significant changes.  Just 37 percent of those 65 and older agree.

Additionally, respondents were asked if they wanted to see Medicare “continue the way it is set up now, as a program that pays the doctors and hospitals that treat senior citizens” or “if they think it should be transformed into “a program that gives senior citizens payments towards the purchase of private insurance.”  Democrats want to retain Medicare in its present form; Republicans want to transform it into a voucher system in which seniors choose their coverage and are given money to cover their insurance premiums.

So strongly does the Senate Democratic leadership feel,  they have reaffirmed that Medicare cuts should not be on the table during the debt ceiling discussions.  “Seniors can’t afford it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said.  “The vast majority of the American people, including most Republicans, do not support changing Medicare as we know it, as articulated in that piece of legislation that came from the House.  That” piece of legislation is the Paul Ryan (R-WI) plan, “The Path to Prosperity”, which slashes the budget deficit by about $5 trillion over the next decade.

Ryan’s plan would overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and proposes major reforms to Medicaid and Medicare.  Medicaid would become a block grant system; the federal government would allocate money to states, giving them greater flexibility to shape their healthcare programs that serve the poor.  Currently, the government matches every dollar that states spend on Medicaid; the formula varies from state to state.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Democrats will not accept a “mini” Ryan plan.  “The Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it must be taken off the table, but Republicans should know that we will not support any mini version plan of ‘Ryan’ either,” Schumer said.  “We want to make our position on Medicare perfectly clear.  No matter what we do in these debt-limit talks, we must preserve the program in its current form, and we will not allow cuts to seniors’ benefits.“

Slashing Medicare will be a major issue in the 2012 election. According to Harvard political scientist and pollster Robert Blendon, “Older Americans tend to vote at much higher rates than other voters,” he said.  “They are the group that most care about healthcare as a voting issue.”

“Medicare for us is a pillar of health and economic security for our seniors,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is the House Minority Leader.  “It’s an ethic, it’s a value…and we intend to fight for it.  Pelosi is well aware that there is a problem with Medicare and acknowledges that the program is not financially sound enough to support the retirement of 78 million baby boomers who are joining the program.  Additionally, she knows that Medicare costs strongly impact the nation’s debt and deficit problem.  Additionally, she says that she prefers not to use Medicare as a weapon against Republicans.  “Would you rather have success with the issue, or would you rather have a fight in the election?  Of course you’d rather have success,” she said.  “That’s what you came here to do.  That’s what’s important to the well-being of the American people.”

Another recent poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center found that older Americans do not have a favorable opinion about privatizing Medicare.  Fifty-one percent of people aged 50 and over oppose the plan, while just 29 percent support it.  Even among Republicans, more respondents oppose the plan than support it.  The changes are designed to save the program’s finances by trimming government benefits for all Americans under the age of 55.  Medicare says it will run out of funds to pay full benefits by 2024.  One person polled is Michael A. Smith, a 54-year-old lifelong Republican who is currently unemployed and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.  “A community like this, they want jobs and no changes in the funds they’ve paid into all their lives,” Smith said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that Ryan’s plan would not allow insurers to charge sick people more than healthy ones. Insurance companies would set premiums at the same level for everyone of the same age.  Although Ryan’s plan would leave Medicare intact for anyone now 55 or older, Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA, said older voters have a hard time believing that.  “Anytime you say, `But this doesn’t affect current senior citizens,’ they think it’s going to affect them,” he said.  “Seniors are very, very sophisticated when it comes to these programs.  They figure any change could have a loophole or an exception or a provision that could end up hurting them after all.  They’re very zealous about safeguarding the programs from which they benefit.”

Capitol Hill Kabuki

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Five Senators want to take the House-passed Medicare plan off the table in bipartisan deficit reduction talks, claiming that the plan effectively dismantles the program.  According to the Senators, the Medicare plan, which passed as part of a budget proposal in April, would jeopardize senior citizens’ current benefits and double out-of-pocket costs.  The five are Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD); Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Senator Bill Nelson, (D-FL); Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-MO); and Senator Jon Tester, (D-MT).

In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, the senators wrote:  “We are aware the administration has rejected this proposal since its passage by the House, and we applaud your efforts to educate the American people about its serious implications.  We encourage you to remain unwavering in opposition to this scheme.  For the good of the nation’s seniors, it must remain off the table.”

According to the letter,“This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either.  It would be devastating for America’s seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for healthcare double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized.  Under this risky proposal, insurance company bureaucrats would decide what seniors get.”  Biden is leading talks to raise the debt ceiling and negotiating with lawmakers regarding ways to reduce the deficit as a trade-off to raise the debt ceiling.

The deficit and debt limit – whose ceiling the nation is rapidly approaching – are part of the conversation on Capitol Hill.  “I’m willing.  I’m ready. It is time to have the conversation” about deficit cuts and the debt limit, said House Speaker John Boehner

(R-OH), urging President Barack Obama to involve himself personally.  “It is time to play large ball, not small ball.”  House Democratic leader Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare.  Absolutely not,” she said,” emphasizing a position she and other Democrats had laid out at their own meeting with the president.   Given Medicare’s size — nearly $500 billion a year — any deal on cutting future deficits is likely to include savings from the program, and may include the benefit cuts that most Democrats oppose.

The Obama administration has come out against the Medicare reforms in the House plan –  authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).  The Senators insist that this is a non starter, and stressed that they must not be a point of negotiation during the ongoing debt ceiling talks.  Despite the Democrats’ opposition, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists that the Medicare reform plan will be “on the table” in negotiations.  “We are going to discuss what ought to be done,” McConnell said.  “I can assure you that to get my vote to raise the debt ceiling, for whatever that is worth…Medicare will be a part of it.”

Some Republicans are backing away from Ryan’s proposal.  For example, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had egg on his face after suggesting that the plan is “radical… right-wing social engineering,” Gingrich’s explanations proved too little, too late for many conservatives, who continue to hammer the former House speaker for his gaffe.

In an op-ed piece for the San Francisco Sentinel,  Chrystia Freeland writes that “The political theater in the United States this week has been all about the ‘debt ceiling’:  Congress voting not to increase it; President Barack Obama and the House Republicans are meeting to discuss it; and the Treasury warning that failure to raise it will bring economic apocalypse for the United States and the world.  Elites like to accuse ordinary Americans of a lack of political sophistication, but everyone from Main Street to Wall Street is savvy enough to understand that so far, the fighting over the ceiling is pure Kabuki.  As with the budget deal earlier this year, the real negotiating is unlikely to happen until the very last minute.  But everyone also understands that this summer game of brinkmanship matters because it is a proxy war being fought over a very real problem:  the growing national debt and deficit.  At just under 60 percent of gross domestic product, the U.S. national debt is lower than that of France, Germany and Britain.  And the rest of the world still seems delighted to lend the United States money on historically generous terms.”