Tag Archives: Obamacare

Embattled Bill Entangled Senator

While the Russians are in, or not in, meetings which are, or aren’t important, and which do or don’t offer trade-craft dangles — there’s a Senate version of the health insurance bill as egregious as its predecessors.  The hold music of the morning on Senator Dean Heller’s DC office phone is a static infused version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic while a person waits for an opportunity for leave a message for the Senator urging opposition to the health care insurance bill.

There’s a reason no one likes this bill — it puts insurance corporations back into the bifurcated market  with high premiums for those older and lower premiums (with higher co-payment and deductible out of pocket expenses) for younger, or less affluent, customers.  It puts state budgets at extreme risk. It slashes Medicaid funding (in conjunction with the proposed budget), thus placing services for children and the elderly in peril.

Senator Heller is described as being wedged into a hard place — between the desires of the hard right (and perhaps the bounteous coffers of Sheldon Adelson) and the hopes of his constituents and the Governor who want reasonable access to affordable health care insurance.

“Heller, in other words, has backed himself into a corner. Either he honors the concerns he raised just a few weeks ago, or reverses course and completes a very public betrayal – the year before his re-election campaign.” [NBC]

It’s time to offer Senator Heller a way out of this box — encouraging his continued opposition to the health insurance bill — call 202-224-6244; or 702-388-6605; or 775-686-5770.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, 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

Rural Nevada Health Care and the Great Bamboozle AHCA

The state of Nevada consists of 110,567 square miles of miles and miles and miles.  271,985 people live in those miles and miles and miles out of a total population of  2,940,058.  A quick poke at the calculator shows a state in which 93% of the population is urban, while most of the real estate is rural.   This situation poses some easily apparent problems for health care services and the delivery thereof.

Rural health services must literally cover wide spans of territory in which there is a small population.   There is one hospital in Battle Mountain (Lander County, NV) to serve a total population of 5,702.  There is one hospital in Winnemucca (Humboldt County, NV) serving a total population of 16,528.  There is one hospital in Lovelock (Pershing County, NV) with a total population of 6,753.  There is one hospital in Elko (Elko County, NV) serving a population of 48,818.  Two conclusions can be reasonably drawn from this quick view of the northern tier of rural counties: (1) In none of these areas can a hospital draw upon “economies of scale” in terms of hospital services.  The obvious example may be that an expectant mother will usually require the same obstetric services in Battle Mountain, as in Winnemucca, as in Las Vegas or Reno.  (2) These rural hospitals serve populations which are generally not as affluent as in urban areas;  the rural per capita income lagging slightly behind urban areas. [RH] This places the northern tier of counties in a predicament similar to other western states:

“In the rural West, many farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers are self-employed, so they can’t get coverage through an employer. Hence, a higher percentage of agricultural employees are covered by Medicaid (11 percent) than in non-agricultural industries (8 percent). Before the ACA was enacted in 2010, workers in the agricultural sector had fewer options, so many remained uninsured. But under the Obama-era plan, many states expanded Medicaid, increasing the percentage of those covered. Under the AHCA, that expansion would be significantly scaled back, according to the Joint Economic Committee report.”

Thus, the National Rural Health Association issued this warning:

“Though most rural residents are in non-expansion states, a higher proportion of rural residents are covered by Medicaid (21% vs. 16%). Congress and the states have long recognized that rural is different and thus requires different programs to succeed. Rural payment programs for hospitals and providers are not ‘bonus’ payments, but rather alternative, cost effective and targeted payment formulas that maintain access to care for millions of rural patients and financial stability for thousands of rural providers across the country. Any federal health care reform must protect a state’s ability to protect its rural safety net providers. The federal government must not abdicate its moral, legal, and financial responsibilities to rural, Medicaid eligible populations by ensuring access to care.”

In short,  cuts to the Medicaid program will disproportionately affect rural health care providers serving rural populations.

But, but, but, sputter the advocates of the Republican offering — We’re Giving People A Choice — you can buy what you want!  Not. So. Fast.

“Though some provisions in the modified AHCA bill improve the base bill, NRHA is concerned that the bill still falls woefully short in making health care affordable and accessible to rural Americans. For example, the modified bill contains a decrease in the Medical Expense Deduction threshold from 10% to 5.8% in an attempt to assist Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 who would see their premiums skyrocket under the current plan. However, this deduction is not a credit and therefore would be of little use to low income seniors that are in very low tax brackets or do not pay income tax at all. Additionally, the new amendments to freeze Medicaid expansion enrollment as of Jan. 1, 2018, and reduce the Medicaid per-capita growth rate will disproportionately harm rural Americans.”

Well, that didn’t go well.  What about that “get what you want argument?”  The first question might well be — What can you afford?  The annual earnings of a farm or ranch owner (manager) in Nevada is reported at an annual mean of $91,970.  However, the range runs from 10th percentile $39,850 to 90th percentile $150,410.  The annual mean wage for a farm or ranch worker is $34,520. [BLS]  Nevada’s reported average annual mean for farm and ranch workers is slightly higher at $36,480. [DETR download] Now we have a problem — 138% of the federal poverty level is $16,374 for a single person or $33,534 for a family of four.   Our hypothetical average annual mean earnings for a farm or ranch worker isn’t eligible for Medicaid expansion enrollment, but has an income well below the Nevada average household income average of $52,431, or 63.96% of the annual average household income level.

How to market an insurance policy this hypothetical average family could afford?  Either offer a comprehensive insurance plan and provide premium assistance to make up the difference between what the premium costs and what the family can reasonably afford — or there’s always the Junk Insurance option.   Consumer Reports offered some excellent advice concerning what constitutes Junk Insurance — aka “affordable plans” —  watch out for fixed benefit indemnity plans, and medical discount cards.  Another Consumer Reports bulletin specified the elements of Junk Insurance, your insurance plan could be very hazardous to your physical and financial health if it contains: Limited benefits; Low overall coverage limits; unrealistic “affordable” premiums; No coverage for important health care services; Ceilings on categories of care; No limits on out of pocket costs; Random catches — like covering hospital care after the second day, when it’s known that the first day is usually the most expensive.

The problem at this juncture for rural Nevadans is that those in the agriculture sector may or may not have earnings allowing them to enroll in Medicaid.  If “yes” then a reduction in Medicaid — whether it happens now or just after the 2020 elections — will have a negative impact on many citizens in the northern tier of “cow counties;” similarly, a return to the Bad Old Days pre-ACA makes those who are certainly less than affluent vulnerable to the offerings of Junk Insurance, which is fine as long as they don’t mind paying for a product which will not cover their medical expenses at the time they actually need it.  Exacerbating this issue is the fact that jobs in agriculture (farming and ranching) are listed by Forbes as the 4th most dangerous occupations in the country.

There’s no way to bestow a bright face to the Republican tax cut disguised as a health insurance ‘reform’ bill in terms of what happens to rural Nevadans and their health care providers.  Those it doesn’t cut out completely it leaves vulnerable to incomplete and almost useless “catastrophic coverage” plans — which for too many policy holders leaves them facing health care costs well beyond their ability to pay for out of pocket.  If there were a recipe for increasing the “uncompensated care” costs for local hospitals and clinics this is definitely IT.  Rural hospitals and clinics, already stretched to meet costs, would be especially at greater risk — and we haven’t even touched on the topics of long term care for the aging or home health care services which prevent individuals from having to reside in more expensive residential care facilities in rural areas.

NOW is the time to contact, and continue to contact, our Senators (Heller and Cortez-Masto) and urge their opposition to this assault on medical care for northern Nevada citizens and their health care providers.

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

All Quiet on the Humboldt

When last we heard from Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) it was in early May at which time he smoothly flipped his vote on the disastrous ACA replacement bill, with a convoluted explanation that “it” wouldn’t hurt Nevada…and then came the CBO scoring.  The District 2 Congressional representative has kept his head down like a ground squirrel in his burrow by the side of the highway.  This prevents him from dashing into the roadway, or as constituents might call it — holding an in person town hall meeting.

Tossing statistics about like so much confetti doesn’t remove the cold fact that the bill for which Amodei voted cuts $839 Billion with a B from the Medicaid expansion.  Cue the GOP lament that there are “able bodied” people who benefit from the Medicaid program, a program initially meant to serve the desperately poor.  The expansion aided people who may not be homeless without a tent but who were certainly desperate in terms of their ability to afford health insurance for themselves and their families.  These are the people who waited until the medical situation was so dire expensive emergency room treatment was required; who used the emergency rooms as a form of walk in clinic for the lack of any more available alternative; who went without any medical attention whatsoever — 48,000 who died according to the Harvard study because health insurance was unaffordable.

Representative Amodei may not have believed the ACA replacement bill would have profound impacts on Rural health services, but other politicians from other states have pointed this out with remarkable clarity.

Missouri, for example, refused the Medicaid expansion, and the results aren’t positive, as described by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill:

“Well, we have, first, more than 2 million Missourians live in rural areas of our state. And 41 percent of our state’s hospitals are in rural areas. We know that they are under particular stress right now, particularly in states like Missouri that have refused the money that has been offered them for their Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. We know that there’ve been 78 rural hospitals closed, including three in Missouri. We know that 74 percent of those hospitals were actually in states that refused to accept the Medicaid money that was offered by the federal government back to the federal taxpayers in those states.”

Arkansas which accepted the Medicaid expansion also has some issues related to its rural hospitals:

“The ACA’s crafters essentially made a deal with hospitals: The ACA cut Medicare reimbursements, but the reduction in uncompensated care through the Medicaid expansion helped offset some of those cuts. Without that offsetting boost, some of the state’s smaller rural hospitals might not be able to survive. A hospital like Baxter — the fifth most Medicare-reliant hospital in the nation, according to Moody’s, thanks to the community’s significant proportion of retirees — would be forced to make dramatic cuts in services without the Medicaid offset. “The expansion of Medicaid through Arkansas Works is one of the key components that’s been able to help us through the change in the ACA,” Peterson said. “Not just Baxter, but it helps all of rural Arkansas.”

What is true of Missouri and Arkansas is true for rural health care in general:

Of the more than 11 million people who have gained Medicaid coverage through the ACA expansion, nearly 1.7 million live in rural America, according to new CBPP estimates (see Appendix Table 1).  The expansion population is more rural than the population as a whole: rural residents make up 12.1 percent of the population of expansion states but 14.1 percent of expansion enrollees in these states.  In at least eight expansion states, more than one-third of expansion enrollees live in rural areas: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia.

The Medicaid expansion has been a lifeline for rural areas in other ways.  The ACA coverage expansions, especially the Medicaid expansion, have substantially reduced hospital uncompensated care costs: uncompensated care costs as a share of hospital operating budgets fell by about half between 2013 and 2015 in expansion states.[8] Reductions in uncompensated care and increases in the share of patients covered by Medicaid have been especially important for rural hospitals.

Nevada hasn’t been immune from the problems associated with a lack of access to affordable health insurance and uncompensated care:

“Rural residents are themselves a public health challenge, as they are generally older, more isolated and less likely to be covered by insurance than their urban counterparts. They’re also more likely to smoke, suffer from obesity and hypertension and die from complications of diabetes.

But preventive care that could head off medical emergencies is hard to come by in many areas. Nevada’s rural and “frontier” counties – a term used for the state’s most-remote and sparsely populated regions – and reservations face severe shortages not just of doctors and primary care services, but also nurses, EMTs, dentists and substance abuse and mental health professionals. And in some areas, the numbers are dwindling, despite efforts to reverse the trend.”

 

And so, there are rural hospitals in Representative Amodei’s district — Elko, Lovelock, Battle Mountain, Yerington, Winnemucca, Ely, Fallon and others — wondering what effects will be felt if the GOP adopts the framework in the House bill for which Amodei voted.   Residents in Tonopah watched as their hospital closed in August 2015, an unfortunate testament to the perils of privatization.  The question which might, and should be raised, to Representative Amodei in some town hall (should he ever emerge) is how does the Republican version of health care insurance “reform” protect rural hospitals from financial pressures endangering rural hospital administration.

Ah, but all this is “old news” now that the Representatives voted on an unscored bill in their haste to get something, anything, done and have tossed the blazing ball into the lap of the Senate — in which we might expect Senator Dean Heller to lament the inadequacies of the measure to the Heavens, and then vote along with Senate leadership for the final (probably dismal) result.

Let’s guess that Senator Heller will announce his ‘profound misgivings and questions’ and then after consultations with some officials, reverse his position and do what he has always done — vote against any augmentation of health insurance affordability for his constituents (see his votes on SCHIP on multiple occasions.)

And so it remains — all quiet on the Humboldt — as Representative Amodei and Senator remain quiet (unless we count Heller’s scripted telephone town hall) on an issue of profound significance to District 2’s health care service providers.

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Filed under Amodei, health insurance, Heller, Medicaid, Medicare, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health, Rural Nevada

Quick Phone Call Fodder for Nevada District 2

Should the Trumpcare bill pass this evening, residents in the following Nevada Counties can expect changes in their premiums after tax credits: From $2400 to $3700 — Humboldt, Elko, Pershing, Esmeralda, Lander, Churchill, Esmeralda, and Mineral counties. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

Beware The Artful Codger

One congressional Representative for our northern neighbor, Idaho, has a problem in his Lewiston office: Too many artful codgers showing up there around lunch time with complaints about his political philosophy.

“A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s office in Lewiston has filed a complaint alleging a threat from a group of local citizens who routinely visit congressional offices.

Scott Carlton reported the issue to the U.S. Capitol Police early last month. Carlton, who works out of the congressman’s downtown Lewiston office, declined to comment when contacted by the Tribune and referred all questions to Doug Taylor, Labrador’s spokesman in Meridian, Idaho.

The citizen group, LC Valley Indivisible, is comprised of mostly older residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, according to its members. The organization is loosely affiliated with the national Indivisible groups that call for town hall meetings with members of Congress to raise issues regarding President Donald Trump’s administration.” [SR]

The group members recall a civil engagement with Scott Carlton, Labrador’s spokesperson. Carlton told people at a Chamber of Commerce gathering that the group was “aggressive,” and reported that he (Carlton) had contacted Capitol Police who have jurisdiction over congressional offices. [Spokesman pdf]

Not that those in Nevada’s 2nd congressional district can complain about this issue too strenuously, Mark Amodei (R-NV2) hasn’t scheduled a public performance since venturing out to Carson City recently. It is noteworthy that Amodei told the Reno Gazette Journal: “… he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone. “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said.”

Now, Representative Amodei has a GOP plan before him that does precisely that — reduces health insurance coverage for people in his district, and the amendments to the bill recently announced make the situation even worse, dismantling Medicaid protection for seniors in record time.  However, Representative Amodei doesn’t appear to want to pencil in a town hall meeting in a major metropolitan area in his district — like Reno/Sparks?  Perhaps some of those artful codgers, similar to the Lewiston lunch bunch, might show up?

However, there are other ways to get the attention of elected representatives. I am particularly fond of the Empty Suit Town Hall. Let’s hear it for Lexington, Kentucky:

“…voters in Lexington, Ky., have been clamoring for the state’s congressional representatives — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr — to tackle constituents’ questions in person. They even booked a venue for Saturday and hand-delivered town hall invites to the politicians’ offices.  The legislators were a no-show, but that didn’t stop things. Instead of McConnell, Paul and Barr, organizers propped up three mannequins wearing suits.” [WaPo]

Perhaps not the best optics for a congressional delegation? At least it’s better to be an empty suit than to sic the Capitol Police on office visitors?

There are other ways to contact GOP representatives like Mark Amodei — and this should be done before the vote on the Repeal/Replace bill on Thursday.

For those living in District 2 there’s Amodei’s contact form for quick e-mail messages. Simply scroll down the page to the “e-mail link.”  The page also has the phone numbers for Amodei’s offices in Reno Phone: (775) 686-5760, Elko Phone: (775) 777-7705 , and Washington, D.C Phone: (202) 225-6155.

This is as good a time as any to remind Representative Amodei what he said to the Gazette Journal: “… he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone. “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said.”

Now, if only those artful souls in Idaho can get the attention of their Representative…

 

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

Questions for District 2’s Representative should we ever see a town hall session

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was pleased to spend his 2016 campaign season supporting the candidacy of one Donald J. Trump.  Now that the campaign is over — there are some pertinent questions the District 2 Representative might address should he ever have one of those ‘town hall’ things.Carter Page

#1. Do the constituents in your district deserve a full and complete explication of the ties between the present administration and the Russian government, its agents, and its affiliated operatives? How likely is it that there will be a full explanation without an independent commission investigation?

We have some hints at the extent of Russian meddling with our elections and administration in chart form here,  Mr. Trump’s connections in Russia here, and the implications here. And, Politifact’s explication here.   There’s the Carter Page  connection. The Roger Stone connection.  More about Wilbur Ross, the administration’s Secretary of Commerce here. A bit of the Russian reactions recently in this article. What of the activities of Paul Manafort?  The names, in the post Flynn flood, keep coming up and out. It seems necessary to have a full, independent, and comprehensive investigation to determine the extent and implications of the Trump ties to the Russians.

#2. How do you explain support for a health care  act which replaces the Affordable Care Act with legislation that doesn’t offer a route to affordable health insurance plans for working Americans? And, which looks for all the world like a whopper tax cut for millionaires, billionaires, and insurance corporations? 

This topic has been explored in the Washington Post, in the Fortune Magazine, and in Slate.

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover mental health services on par with physical health coverage?

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover pre-natal, maternity, and post-natal expenses for American families?

Will the replacement bill require that consumer protections provided by state insurance commissions be retained?

How will be the replacement make health care policies more ‘affordable’ without going back to the days when insurance companies could sell low coverage/high deductible policies which left families with massive medical debt?

How will the replacement bill maintain the fiscal health of rural hospitals and clinics?

Now, all we have to do is wait for Representative Mark Amodei to hold a meeting with constituents to address these, and other issues.  I’d not like to hang by my hair for as long as this might take.

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