Tag Archives: Prescription Drugs

Rest and Repair: Going Forward With The ACA

Breathe, regroup, and re-enlist in the movement to #Resist the egregious GOP agenda to dismantle the 20th century.  The health insurance bill was the first fight, but it won’t be the last.

First, expect the GOP to repeat ad nauseam all the old talking points about the Affordable Care Act, and to keep working in the background to eliminate key elements of health care assistance, and we need to be prepared to counter them.

“Premiums have skyrocketed”Counter: While there are some states in which premiums for health care insurance have increased dramatically, there are others like Indiana and Rhode Island in which premiums have actually decreased. Nevada’s increase was a modest 8% when compared to pre-ACA rate increases.  [See KFF chart for all 50 states.]  Counter: Premiums are only part of the consumer costs.  If an insurance policy offers low premiums, but includes higher co-payments and deductibles then it really isn’t “cheaper.”

“Democrats want to bail out the Health Insurance Corporations.”  The Republicans used this line when attacking the legislation to get ourselves out of the Great Recession, the product of unfettered financialism on the part of investment banks. This line has served them well, and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) utilized it almost constantly to impress Nevada voters with his “independence” when bragging about how he voted against “bank bailouts” in the Dodd Frank Act, legislation which applied common sense regulation to investment bank practices.

A much better frame for this argument from the pro-ACA side would be that we want to stabilize the insurance markets.  Including a re-insurance element to the ACA would be helpful.  There is a way to introduce these topics without resorting to protracted arcane discussions about the nuances of the insurance market:  Explain the Three R’s.  Risk Adjustment. Reinsurance. Risk Corridors.

Government is forcing people to buy insurance they don’t want.”  I’m fond of hauling out my auto insurance — even though I’m fully aware of the fact that this is far from a good analogy.  I have one vehicle which works and one that doesn’t.  For the one that works I have a comprehensive policy, and for the one that doesn’t I have a basic policy.  What the ACA does is require a “basic policy.”  The old rig isn’t going to hit anyone or anything unless a tornado picks it up and moves it — but I still have some liability insurance for it. The policy pools all car owners, and basic is basic, so there’s liability insurance on a vehicle that isn’t moving and isn’t going to without a tow truck.  (Please don’t ask why I still have it…the answer is irrational.)

Individual mandates and employer mandates aren’t popular.  That’s fairly irrefutable. However, those mandates are an essential part of creating a widening POOL of policy holders, which in fact serves to help contain health care cost increases.

But everyone has access to health care…in the emergency room.”  No, all this means is that everyone has access to EMERGENCY health treatment, which, as we all know is the most expensive place to receive care.  Further, “having access” is not the same as being able to pay for it — thus the pre-ACA misery of personal bankruptcies and hospitals with disturbing amounts of uncompensated care on their books.

Secondly, have a plan.  A plan to address specific needs for specific problems.  If health care costs are rising faster than other consumer needs, then address this directly.  (1) Allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare the same way the VA negotiates prices for veterans’ medication. (2) Incentivize prescription drug research while limiting excessively high prices.  This sounds impossible, but really isn’t.  A paper from the Brookings Institution (pdf) explains how this might be accomplished.   If about $1 out of every $6 spent on health care is related to prescription drugs, holding the line in this realm would be helpful.  (3) Allow the importation, or re-importation, of medication.  This probably isn’t as efficacious as some of the other proposals, but it, too, could be helpful.

(4) Encourage practices which yield better health care outcomes.  Thus far we have a system which pays for services rendered — as it should — however, efforts to study and promote best practices.  This is a component of the ACA and one that should be publicized more effectively.  (5)  Emphasize preventive medicine.  This, too, is an element incorporated into the ACA, and deserves more attention.  It’s far better for all concerned to promote annual health check ups, healthy lifestyle and nutrition programs, and vaccinations than it is to cover the costs of heart attacks and preventable diseases.  The insurance corporation doesn’t have to pay out the claims for the heart attack, the hospital doesn’t risk providing uncompensated care, the physician doesn’t run that same risk, and the person who avoided the heart attack in the first place is working and continues being a productive member of society.

(6) The slippery slope message is already in the public domain.  “What the Democrats really want is ‘single payer.’” Yes, some do.  The Republican cognitive dissonance hits the surface when some conservatives decry socialized medicine while famously exhibiting their “Get Government Hands Off My Medicare” signs.  However, this argument is both accurate and speculative at the same time.  Some Democrats are, indeed, in favor of single payer. Some are more likely to support a public option where private corporations are reluctant to enter the private health insurance market.  Others would simply prefer to sustain the present health insurance exchange marketplace system under the current provisions of the ACA.  There’s no monolithic, lock step, Democratic position on this issue, which is both a political problem for massing support for a specific proposal, and a political opportunity to let local voters select the candidate who best represents their views.

Third, we need to recognize that “repeal and replace” was never a serious proposal in the first place.  Had it been serious, then surely in the seven years since the passage of the ACA the Republican party would have come up with something more substantial than cutting Medicaid, limiting jury awards for malpractice, defunding Planned Parenthood, and giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy among us.  They were perfectly happy to vote in favor of complete repeal of the ACA until the burden shifted to their own backs, then the GOP controlled Senate couldn’t come up with 50 votes for a sham bit of legislation no-one wanted.

Slogans are effective public relations, but they are woefully inadequate policy proposals.  No, the ACA isn’t “socialized medicine.”  If it were then the Heritage Foundation wouldn’t have provided the framework of the plan as a response to Hillary Clinton’s health care proposals back in the ’90s.’  Granted, the Heritage Foundation didn’t include increasing Medicaid coverage, and it did include ‘tort reform,’ but the other similarities are striking even if hard-line Republicans in 1993 opposed the bill based on the framework, and it never came to a floor vote.

The GOP Zombie Bills may be gone, but the fight isn’t over.  And the obese ladies who would do better to follow the advice given by their doctors (covered as part of the ACA mandated insurance) aren’t yet singing.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Nevada politics, 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