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Should Massachusetts Pay For Mississippi’s Healthcare?

As I have been predicting for a long time, state insurance regulators were unlikely to remain silent for long in the face of efforts to federalize major parts of state insurance regulation.  They’re talking now, and they’re  mad.

Last week, Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan testified in Congress on behalf of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  He said that federal regulation must not displace the current system of state regulation. Calling the proposed legislation a “regime change,” he said it would result in “redundant, overlapping responsibilities will result in policyholder confusion, market uncertainty, regulatory arbitrage and a host of other unintended consequences.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Eight Quick Reactions To Obama’s Healthcare Speech

Eight quick reactions to the President’s speech:

1.  It was a good speech.  Reaction around the blogosphere and elsewhere seems to be dependent on how you felt about reform plans going in.  If you were in favor, you thought it was terrific (warning strong language at the link); if you were against, you thought it was disingenuous.

2.  The interesting question is how people who weren’t sure will react.  By this I mean people who are anxious that reform will affect their health care in ways they don’t like.  There is still the mixed message that created this anxiety in the first place.  On the one hand, the President repeated “Nothing in this plan will require you to change what you have. “  Sounds like no big deal.  On the other hand, he quoted Ted Kennedy as saying the plan “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”  Sounds like a very big deal.  Which is it?

3.  The boorish Congressman who screamed “you lie!” at Obama during the address must have been confused and thought he was at a town hall meeting.  But I’ve always thought it would be cool if we had a “Question Time” like they do in the UK.  Presidents would have to face much more interesting and uncomfortable questions than they otherwise get, and it would make for a terrific spectacle.  Obviously this wasn’t the time or place for that sort of thing.  And if we ever do get an American Question Time, representatives will have to come up with better questions than “you lie,” too.

4.  The President talked about “30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”  This is different from the 46 million “uninsured” he usually talks about.  The Associated Press thinks the other 16 million are people who could buy or otherwise get coverage but choose not to, as compared to those who want coverage but can’t afford it.

5.  I was surprised to hear the President give more than just a nod to the Facebook health care status update meme.  I mean he quoted it directly: “in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick.”  This must be the first time a President has ever quoted something from Facebook in an address to Congress – it’s some kind of a milestone for social media.  Thoughts on that meme are here.

6. The President talked about the uncompetitive insurance market, noting that “in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies.”  It sounds like he’s not just talking about the “public option” when he talks about creating competition in these markets.  His idea of insurance exchanges and a federal health insurance regulator seem to be direct challenges to the state-by-state system of insurance regulation.  It will be interesting to see the reaction of state insurance regulators to this speech.

7.  I was right: the President didn’t talk about the three things I said he wouldn’t talk about.  In fact, he said almost nothing about the delivery of care- it was all about how to pay for it.

8. The President got some laughs with his comment that he thinks “there remain some significant details to be ironed out.”  He’s right, and there’s the rub.  Whether and how that ironing out happens was the question before the President’s speech, and it’s still the question today.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Healthcare And Illegal Immigrants: Why The Confusion?

“I don’t know what could be more clear,” said Representative Bruce Braley, Democrat of Iowa, who has read aloud from a section of the House bill with the title “No Federal Payments for Undocumented Aliens.”

Heath Care Debate Revives Immigration Battle,”
New York Times, 6 Sep 2009

From House Bill 3200, page 143:

SEC. 246. NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED
4 ALIENS.
5 Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments
6 for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are
7 not lawfully present in the United States.

* * *

Taxpayers are concerned whether they will have to foot the bill for illegal aliens in the upcoming health care bill. Many ask good questions, like how will health care workers know who’s an illegal alien? If they are included, how will it be paid for? These are important questions that we would hope could be dealt with squarely, openly and with full transparency.

But this is a sensitive topic for Congressmen interested in securing reelection.

During the summer recess, many Congressmen were barraged by questions to this effect. So it was interesting reading this New York Times piece this morning on whether illegal aliens will be covered under the new health care plan before Congress. On one hand we have Congressmen placating his constituents by assuring voters that “I don’t know how it could be more clear” as they suggest taxpayers will not fund illegal aliens, but careful inspection discloses that illegal aliens will just not be eligible for federal subsidies to reduce their payments for federally-supplied health insurance.

But from here, it gets even more byzantine:

… the report finds that the House bill would not prohibit illegal immigrants from enrolling in a health insurance exchange. The exchange would allow participants to buy coverage from one of several plans, including a public option offered by the federal government.

At the same time, illegal immigrants would not be exempt from the obligations in the House bill. According to the research service, most illegal immigrants in the country would be required to buy health insurance or face tax penalties.

And since they would be barred from subsidies, they would have to pay for coverage at full rates, regardless of their income level.

So here we have illegal aliens, already strapped for cash, paying their “full payment” and if they don’t, the tax man will come after them (which is confusing to me, because I didn’t know that illegal aliens pay taxes).

So what is wrong with the public? How could they possibly be confused?

Here’s a thought: the only real way out of these shameful machinations is to deal with the immigration and health care issue separately, incrementally, and without this shell game. Doesn’t the American public deserve a more thorough discussion of this issue, rather than shoving it in to our upcoming health care legislation?

My personal sense of it is that such an issue will never be decided at the Emergency Room door. Rather, it is part of a systemic immigration control and reform question that involves our borders, employee verification, and a decision about existing illegal immigrants.

What we’re observing instead, is a Congress is too scared to deal with this issue honestly.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Average Americans Are Very Confused About Healthcare Reform

Doubled over in pain, you stagger into the emergency room and are diagnosed with acute appendicitis. A surgeon leans over your stretcher:

Surgeon: You need an appendectomy.

You: What are my options?

Surgeon: Either I take out your appendix or you die.

Now that’s a conversation people can understand. But what if, instead of whisking you up to the operating room, the surgeon kept talking and invited a few other people into the discussion?

Surgeon: Do you think I should take it out by an open operation or laparoscopically?

You: Huh?

Laparoscopy equipment salesman: You know, cutting you open the old-fashioned way and leaving a big scar or having a tiny incision. Laparoscopy is much better than the open procedure.

Guy who sells scar-removal cream: Wait a minute. Better for whom? Laparoscopy takes fourteen minutes longer.

Hospital administrator: But hospital stay is reduced by 0.7 days on average, patients have less pain, and you can return to work sooner.

Surgeon: Laparoscopy costs more than an open operation while you’re hospitalized but less once you’re home. What’s your co-pay?

You: Doc, my belly’s hurting a lot more now.

Guy who owns shares in a drug company: What if we just treat him with antibiotics?

Surgeon: Don’t be silly. His appendix could burst.

Funeral director: What about doing nothing?

Very smart people are zoning out of the health care reform debate because they think it’s just too complicated.
The latest poll out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente, says only 27 percent of the public has been following the health reform debate closely. Despite this, more than half (56 percent) of Americans think health reform is more important than ever.

Simply put, there are four main goals of the legislation:

  • Coverage expansion and subsidies. This is where most of the estimated trillion dollar price tag over ten years would go – to expanding Medicaid for uninsured and lower income people and to help people who can’t afford it pay on a sliding scale for insurance through new health insurance exchanges.
  • Insurance market reforms. This is about fair play in the insurance industry. Advocates want to eliminate practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions and jacking up premiums if they’re sick. The most controversial proposal is the establishment of a “public option” – a government insurance plan that would compete against private ones.
  • Delivery and payment reforms. This is about delivering more effective care at a lower cost.
    About 20 percent of the 2.5 trillion dollar annual health care price tag does not contribute to better health.
  • Prevention. This has been long overlooked in America. Spend a few dollars on foot care for a diabetic and you may prevent a foot amputation and thousands of dollars in expenses.Defining the goals is relatively easy to understand. Implementing them is tough and that’s where people are made to feel stupid – partly by special interest groups who intentionally or unintentionally confuse the debate. Drew Altman, Ph. D., the President and CEO of Kaiser Family Foundation, told me there’s “all kinds of spin, mis-statement of fact and plain old mis-truths being bandied about and the debate is getting nastier and nastier.” He added that people are becoming confused and “it’s beginning to make the public more anxious and antsier.”

    Half-truths feed on fear. People are afraid of losing or compromising what coverage they already have. They’re afraid of higher taxes and lower quality of care. Who has the time or patience to read the 1,000-page bill proposed by the House of Representatives? So we rely on summaries and are susceptible to all sorts of misrepresentation. And nobody wants a plan with major faults rammed down their throat in the name of political expediency.

    Today’s Kaiser Family Foundation report suggests that the tactics of special interest groups are working. Sixty percent of adults surveyed support a public option. But “(w)hen those who initially support the public plan are told that this could give the government an unfair advantage over private companies, overall support drops to 35 percent. Conversely, when opponents are told that public plans would give people more choice or help drive down costs through competition, overall support jumps to roughly seven in ten.”

    It’s in the interest of those who oppose health care reform to make us feel that it’s just too hard to understand. I have certainly felt that way at times over the past year. But the stakes are too high for Americans to bale out on the discussion. Our common sense and sense of fair play are crucial to the national conversation. We should hear out the special interest groups; they often have legitimate concerns and thoughtful analysis. But we need to remember where they are coming from. And we must seek out information from sources that try to be nonpartisan, such as the
    Kaiser Family Foundation.

    No, you’re not stupid if you’re confused about health care reform. But you may be psyched out. You probably know a lot more than you think – but you may need to do some homework in order to participate in this extraordinarily important national debate. The national debate needs you.

    For this week’s CBS Doc Dot Com, I moderate a debate about the public option between Wendell Potter, former head of public relations for Cigna and Rob Schlossberg, Executive Sales Director for BenefitMall. Mr. Schlossberg opposes it and Mr. Potter favors it.

    To view the debate on a public option,
    click here.

    To view a brief discussion of for-profit vs. not-for-profit health insurance organizations,
    click here.

    For Janet Adamy’s excellent summary, “Ten Questions on the Health-Care Overhaul,” in the July 21st issue of the The Wall Street Journal,
    click here.


    Watch CBS Videos Online

    Extra Video

    The Economics Of Health Care

    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5181458n&tag=contentMain;contentBody


    Watch CBS Videos Online

  • ABC News Covers Better Health’s “Putting Patients First” Event At The National Press Club

    I had the chance to discuss the event with local ABC anchor, Dave Lucas. We talked about the folly of rushing through a healthcare bill without reading it first… among other things.

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