Category Archives: nevada health

It’s A National Emergency, we think…

Since his attempt to revive Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in the face of a crisis in the increased addiction to opioid drugs in this country fell flat,  Dear Leader appeared to suggest the problem is a matter of law enforcement — a major mistake.  The genesis of the issue comes from the over-prescribing and over use of opioid medication once advertised as “virtually addiction free.”  Indeed, Purdue Pharma is still facing litigation from the state of New Hampshire over its advertising of Oxycontin. This, in addition to the 2007 guilty plea from the corporation for mislabeling the drug, and the payment of  $634.5 million to resolve a DoJ investigation.  Meanwhile, Nevada holds its unfortunate position in the top ten states when counting opioid death rates.  There were 224 overdose deaths in 2014, another 259 in 2015 [CDC] related to natural and semi-synthetic opioids; Nevada’s statistics were more bleak citing some 465 opioid related deaths in 2015.

Since we probably can’t arrest our way out of this mess, in Nevada or anywhere else, the answer in the long run is prevention (better guidance for physicians and tracking, combined with better public education on the nature of opioid addiction) and treatment.  And, for treatment, people have to have a way to afford it.

Medicaid has been a Godsend for many suffering through an opioid addiction.

“The authors of the report (Urban Institute) draw a parallel between the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and spending on addiction medications, saying it has brought addiction treatment to previously underserved populations.

“What we saw was this gigantic, rapid, ongoing expansion in treatment,” says co-author Lisa Clemans-Cope. “It was particularly fast after 2014 when the big Medicaid expansion came into play. There’s definitely an effect of people getting access to treatment. That’s the primary driver of growth of spending.”

So, Medicaid spent more on treatment after 2014 – because more people were in a position to afford the treatment programs available to them.  Therefore, the next time a Republican politician stands before us with plans to slash Medicaid spending, and turn the Medicaid program into a block grant lottery for the states, we might well ask:  What does your proposal do to assist the states, like Nevada, deal with the treatment expenses of individuals trying to cope with opioid addiction and who are seeking assistance to make that treatment affordable.

Gee, the states are supposed to “benefit” from greater flexibility?  Would that be the flexibility to choose between supporting special education children with speech and physical therapy and opiate addicts?  Or choosing between the needs of the families of opiate addicts and the severely disabled?  Or choosing between the needs of opiate addicts seeking treatment and women seeking mammograms and other cancer screenings?  Santa doesn’t come without some expense.

Somehow the Republicans have managed to entangle themselves in their own rhetoric.  We can cut taxes, expand the military, all by cutting social safety net programs, and still have money for fighting opioid addiction in this country!  Santa will bring us tax cuts and another Santa will keep Granny in the skilled nursing facility, help cousin Elwood find a job in a new industry, make sure the family can get immunizations, cancer screenings, treatment for acute and chronic medical conditions, and insure that the Interstate Highway System is continually maintained.

It’s Jude Wanniski’s Two Santa Theory — a position only definable as something coming from an opiate induced delusion:

“Unfortunately, Mr. Wanniski opened Pandora’s box when he let loose the two-Santa theory. Republicans are now bound to it, whether they know it or not. As Keynes once put it, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

**For more information: See the following excellent articles in the Nevada Independent — “Another side of the opioid heroin crisis,” “For Many Governors…” “As Out of Control opioid epidemic rages..”

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Filed under Economy, health insurance, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Thanks Mr. Trump: Anthem Pulls Out of ACA market

This from Fortune magazine on Anthem’s decision to pull out of the Nevada health insurance exchange:

“In its announcement, Anthem said it had spoken with state leaders and regulators, but the deteriorating market, paired with uncertainty at the federal level, led the company to make a “difficult” decision. The Senate recently failed to make good on the GOP’s years-long campaign promise to repeal the law known as Obamacare, and insurers say Trump has added to instability in the markets with threats to stop paying so-called cost-sharing reduction subsidies.”  (emphasis added)

The administration has several ways to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and failure to support the cost sharing reduction subsidies is one of the prime one.

Thanks Mr. Trump.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Rest and Repair: ACA and market stabilization

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) might have wished for a kinder, gentler, headline from the Reno Gazette Journal, but he got this one: “After weeks of waffling, Heller votes ‘yes’ on failed ‘skinny repeal’ of Obamacare.”  Rest assured, he’s promised to work on health insurance reform as part of his duties on the Senate Finance Committee.   This would be as good a time as any for him to demonstrate his knowledge of the insurance sector.

Heller Plays the Bail Out Card: Game One 

Let’s track back a couple of paces in time to review how Senator Heller presented his ‘moderate’ credentials on economic concerns.  While Nevada was in the throes of the Great Recession brought on by the Wall Street Casino machinations, Senator Heller was touting his opposition to the Dodd-Frank Act to insert some common sense regulation of the banking industy, casting it as follows: “Heller mentioned he was the only member of the Nevada delegation to vote against the bank bailout. He called the Dodd-Frank bank regulation bill “cover for those who voted for the bank bailout.”  In short,  that “cover” was the regulation of some of the practices that caused the collapse of the investment banks in the United States.  Senator Heller calculated that the use of the phrase “bailout” would be sufficiently negative to thoroughly obscure his support for the deregulation of the banking sector and the Wall Street Casino players therein.  There’s little reason to doubt he’ll try this play again in 2018.

McConnell Tees Up the Bail Out Card: Game Two

After the “skinny bill” failed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell provided the framework for the next time Senator Heller might want to play the Bail Out card:

“Now, I think it’s appropriate to ask, what are their ideas? It’ll be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward. For myself I can say — and I bet I’m pretty safe in saying for most on this side of the aisle — that bailing out insurance companies with no thought of any kind of reform is not something I want to be part of. And I suspect there are not many folks over here that are interested in that. But it’ll be interesting to see what they have in mind.”  (emphasis added)

If Senator Heller didn’t mind obfuscating the purpose of the Dodd Frank Act (by calling it a bail out), he’ll certainly not mind playing the same game with the attempts to improve our health insurance system.  It would be very tempting for him to try this play one more time to cover his opposition to the very proposals that would stabilize the individual health care insurance markets in this country.  For the record, I’m assuming that if a proposal helps an insurance corporation, then Senator Heller will be sure to call it a “bail out.”   Or, in the immortal words of President George W. Bush, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.’

Making Mountains from Mole Hills

There are justifiable questions about the stability of the individual health insurance market, but before we launch major proposals in this direction it’s important to note that for all the palaver about the collapse, demise, descent or whatever of the Affordable Care Act, that individual market has been stabilizing on its own.  The Kaiser Family Foundation released its report on this market:

“Large premium increases, typically granted by state regulators, in 2017 contributed to the improved financial performance, as insurers adjusted for a sicker-than-expected risk pool, the analysis finds. However, data on hospitalizations suggest that the risk pool was not getting progressively sicker as of 2017, supporting the notion that the large increases were necessary as a one-time market correction.

Slow growth in claims for medical expenses also played a role in insurers’ financial improvements, according to the analysis.”

So far so good, but there are issues to be faced.

“Although the analysis finds the market is stabilizing, it notes that ongoing uncertainty over payment of cost-sharing subsidies to insurers and enforcement of the individual mandate could lead insurers to leave the market or charge higher premiums in 2018.”

We can now safely assert that when Senator McConnell (and perhaps Senator Heller) speak of “bailing out” insurance companies they may be referring to proposals to provide more certainty to the insurance corporations that the administration will, in fact, make good on those promises to come through with cost-sharing subsidies.  That’s truly stretching the definition of a bail out, but it may prove a highly convenient hook on which to hang Republican rhetoric.

The previous post mentioned the Three R’s — risk adjustment, risk corridors, and reinsurance.  Here’s one proposal for the last on the list:

“Senator Kaine and Senator Tom Carper of Delaware on Wednesday introduced legislation to create a reinsurance program to help insurers offset the cost of covering older, less healthy customers. That type of program—which provides payments to insurers that enroll high-cost individuals—was originally part of Obamacare until it expired last year, and Republican legislators in Minnesota and Alaska have embraced the idea as a way to stabilize insurance markets in those states. “That’s something that should have some bipartisan appeal,” Kaine said. [Atlantic]

Reinsurance was in place until 2016 in order to ease any problems with corporations insuring a high number of risky policy holders, such as those with pre-existing medical conditions.  Re-establishing it would serve the same stabilization purposes today.   The Kaiser Family Foundation provides an explanation of risk adjustment and risk corridors which don’t require an MBA to understand. Neither of these constitute any form of “bail out.”

Conflation Projection 

Conflation is too often a vehicle for obfuscation.  For example, one of the Republican objections to the ACA continues to be the incantation: Socialized Medicine!  There’s no hint of socialized medicine in the ACA, it’s a full bore market based system of encouraging  affordable health insurance policies sold by PRIVATE companies to PRIVATE CONSUMERS for use to pay PRIVATE HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS.  However, this doesn’t prevent Republicans from speculating on the ulterior motives of Democratic advocates of expanding access to affordable health insurance policies.

“Soon, they’ll want a public option!” And, then they’ll want Single Payer…and there you have it Socialized Medicine.

Let’s stop here before the fog gets too thick, and explore other options for improving health care access in another post.

*Thanks to @Karoli and Mark Stufflebeam for suggestions and references. 

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, McConnell, Medicare, nevada health, Politics

Health, Wealth, and Senator Heller: Recommended Reading

Health care continues as a high priority item for Nevadans, and Greg Sargent’s article for the Washington Post points out how the “GOP Stunt Backfired…and why,” is highly recommended for pulling the tarpaulin off the GOP obfuscation concerning the Affordable Care Act.  The New York Times reports on the impact of the health insurance battle on other elements of the GOP agenda.  Ian Millhiser warns us that if we stop paying attention, the GOP wins.  Meanwhile,…

Senator Dean Heller continues to spout the party lines (the part under the tarp) while ostensibly opposing the repeal bill:

“Under the ACA, premiums have increased 7 times faster than wages, and federal regulations under the law’s employer mandate have cut workers’ hours, wages, or both.”

Nothing like tossing one’s apples and oranges together and expecting to get grape juice.  Some significant elements are missing from this pithy bit of prose.  First, premiums have increased, but not at an equal pace in all states. Secondly, the rate of premium increases have slowed during the implementation of the ACA.  Third, wages have been stagnant during the past decade, but that has little to do with the enactment of health care insurance reform — in fact, lower wage working Americans were included in the Medicaid expansion– the very program the GOP wants to slash in order to provide tax cuts to wealthy Americans.

Senator Heller believes that re-importation of prescription drugs and allowing insurance purchases across state lines are part of the solution.  Notice that he’s not in favor of so much competition as to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in the manner allowed to the Veterans Administration.  Also notice that he’s not mentioning that some states have rather more lax requirements for the sale of comprehensive health insurance than others.  The “across state lines,” or “portability argument” sounds good until we recall that states build in consumer protections into their regulatory frameworks.  If we could be guaranteed that portability would be a function of the most rigorous consumer protections there’s something to be discussed herein; if not, it’s simply a formula for a race to the bottom.

This is no time to remove our attention to the decimation of health insurance affordability —

Senator Heller can be reached in Las Vegas at 702-388-6605; Reno at 775-686-5770; and DC at 202-224-6244.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

It Ain’t Over Until The Fat Golfer Sings

Senator McConnell’s Secret Health Insurance Shop is still working, with the Lobbyists/Elves seeking a way to offer goodies acceptable to the wavering and the wanton.  Keep calling!  and if you’d like more information to substantiate your comments there are some excellent sources.

Kaiser Family Foundation:   Your one stop center for research and analysis on health insurance issues.  Definitely a “bookmark this” recommendation.  Today, KFF notes that before the implementation of the ACA individual insurance plans for health care did not cover delivery and maternity care  in 75% of the policies; 45% of the policies didn’t cover substance abuse treatment; and 38% failed to cover any mental health care services.

If terms like “risk adjustment,” “re-insurance,” and “risk corridors” seem like something written in Minoan Linear A, the KFF has an excellent summation of these technical terms in easily understood American English.

There are also some analytical pieces on the impact of Republican suggestions for health care insurance “reform” as they relate to rural health care in the following:

Human Rights Watch — Senate Health Care Bill A Swipe At Rural United States.

MSNBC/Scarborough – Rural Health Care Would Be Savaged By This Bill.

There’s a narrative going around that Democrats haven’t brought anything to the table, which depends on whether we’re taking the long or short term view.  In the short term this would be true — because the McConnell Secret Health Insurance Shop didn’t invite any Democratic participation,  for that matter there seems to have been some Republican Senators who were left in darkness.  The longer view would note some of the following:

Senator Franken’s “Rural Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 2016” (pdf) S. 3191 (114th Congress) was introduced in July 2016 and “died” in the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill would have amended two titles of the Social Security Act to improve health care in rural areas of the United States.

There is Representative Jan Shakowsky’s CHOICE Act, H.R. 635, which would establish a public option under the ACA.  See also S. 194, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s CHOICE Act.  There’s Rep. Gene Green’s HR 2628 to stabilize Medicaid and the Children’s Insurance program.  Rep. John Conyers introduced his form of “single payer” in his Medicare for All bill, HR 676.  On the topic of making pharmaceuticals more affordable:  Senator Sanders – Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act S. 469.  Senator Klobuchar has a bill “… to allow for expedited approval of generic prescription drugs and temporary importation of prescription drugs in the case of noncompetitive drug markets and drug shortages.” S. 183. Rep. Kurt Schrader introduced H.R. 749 to increase competition in the pharmaceutical industry.  Senator Ron Wyden introduced S. 1347, RxCap Act of 2017.

Senator Klobuchar has also introduce a bill supporting Alzheimer’s caregivers in S.311.  Rep. Derek Kilmer’s bill, H.R. 1253, seeks to improve access to treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.   This is by NO means an exhaustive list of what can be gleaned from Gov.Track, but it does illustrate that the Democrats are not without suggestions — negotiating drug prices for Medicare, stabilizing the current system, public options, single payer — it’s just that these bills won’t get out of Republican controlled committees and they didn’t make it into Senator McConnell’s Secret Shop.

Indulge in no victory dance, we’ve seen this movie before … don’t believe that some minor blandishment won’t be enough to lure Senator Heller from his current position …don’t think that the products of McConnell’s Secret Shop have stopped coming off their assembly line.

Senator Heller can be reached at 202-224-6224;  702-388-6605;  775-686-5770

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, nevada health, Pharmaceuticals, Politics, public health

What Nevada Loses under Trump-Doesn’t-Care

Here’s what Nevada loses under the egregious Trumpcare Bill:

(1)  138,100 citizens in Nevada will lose their health insurance coverage.

(2) 81,000 Nevadans will lose their Medicaid coverage.

(3) 439,000 Nevadans with pre-existing conditions will be put at risk.

(4) The bill cuts funding for care for 125,056 Nevadans with disabilities.

(5) It would raise the average health insurance premium for Nevadans by $677 in 2018.

(6) $288 million in new costs will be added to Nevadans in order to keep their Medicaid expansion.

Not a very good deal for the Silver State!

Call. Call. Call Senator Dean Heller.  702-388-6605    775-686-5770    202-224-6244

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Filed under health, health insurance, Heller, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

48 Hours: The Health Care Bill

If a person hasn’t found the reason to call Senator Heller’s office and advise him to vote NO on the Republican version of a health care bill, consider the following:

(1)  One in three residents of skilled nursing facilities in Nevada are supported by Medicaid. Now, apply a simple calculator test — if a person was born in 1946 (the beginning of the Baby Boom) he or she will hit 80 in 2026.  In short, the Baby Boomers will be in the age range to need such care just as the major cuts to Medicaid kicks in.  About 65,000,000 children were born in this country between 1945 and 1961.  Cuts to the Medicaid program in this context is essentially create a crisis which we could easily have avoided.

(2) The Republicans are fond of focusing on “premium increases.”  That’s only a part of the story.  Anyone can devise insurance policies with low premiums — raise the deductibles, cut the coverage, increase co-pays,  insert lifetime benefit limits, and Voila! lower premiums.   The problems begin when a person tries to use the insurance — the reason the person bought the policy in the first place — “We’re so sorry, but this policy doesn’t cover immunizations. Or, mammograms, or prostate cancer screening, or the expenses related to the birth of your first child…”

(3) Speaking of lower premiums,  if a person has insurance from an employer then there should be no surprise when the coverage decreases compliments of the waivers included in the Senate bill — “We’re sorry, but we no longer cover wellness screenings for men and women, maternity care, or other elements that used to be included as Essential Benefits.” If a person thought that employer sponsored policies were “safe” from “reforms,” please think again.

(4) This isn’t a health care bill, it’s a tax cut bill.  Those whose income is in the top 0.1% level would receive a lovely $250,000 tax savings gift in 2026. Those earning more than $875,000 (top 1%) would get tax savings of $45,500.  [CNN]  All this at the expense of working Americans.

(5) The buzz word “patient centered” is nonsense.  At bottom, it’s a euphemistic way of saying “You are On Your Own.” A person can “choose” to buy what he or she can afford — and for lower income Americans this means lower coverage and higher out of pocket expenses.  The problem with applying classic market principles to health care is that much of what is covered isn’t a matter of Choice.  No one chooses to be in a traffic accident, any more than a person chooses to get cancer or have a heart attack.   The Republican argument seems to boil down to “live a perfect life and make excellent choices” and you are ‘worthy’ of having insurance.  This argument only works IF a person has no familial risk factors, IF a person isn’t exposed to other people (who might have an infectious disease), and IF a person can afford to build a residence in which there are no places to fall and no way to have an accident with a garage door.  In short, it’s fantasy land.

The next few hours are crucial — that’s right — HOURS. Please call Senator Heller’s office at 702-388-6605;  or 775-686-5770; or 202-224-6244.  Your health care services are at stake.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics