Category Archives: Policy and politics

Welcome to #CareTalk with CareCentrix CEO John Driscoll

In this episode of #CareTalk I banter with John Driscoll  –CEO of post-acute benefits manager CareCentrix—  about the health insurance company mergers, drug pricing, whistleblowers, marijuana and more.

Don’t miss the lightning round at the end!

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Could Medicaid for all be the answer?

connect-20333_1280

Putting it all together

The Affordable Care Act is a complex law, but for a major piece of legislation that actually made it all the way through a very open legislative process, it’s remarkably coherent. Republicans have tried to sabotage it since before it was passed, and yet it still managed to succeed while a Democratic Administration remained in power. I have predicted in the past that if Republicans actually managed to poison Obamacare that they would come to regret it, because it would lead eventually to the rise of a single payer (i.e., truly socialist) system.

I assumed that the move toward single payer would take a generation to happen and would be driven at the federal level. But Nevada’s quick embrace of Medicaid for everyone surprised me, and it looks like a good option that addressed a lot of tough healthcare financing problems. Even if this Nevada plan ultimately dies on the vine, it provides a template for other states.

Here’s the basic story behind the Nevada Care Plan: Obamacare supporters are worried about what will happen to people who use the exchanges/marketplaces if Trump or Congress is successful in destroying the markets. Trump has been wreaking havoc on the marketplaces by threatening to cut off the subsidies that make premiums and out-of-pocket expenses affordable. The American Health Care Act (AHCA), aka Trumpcare, Ryancare, etc. would be the death knell. As a result, millions of people who get insurance through exchanges today would be out of luck.

A Medicaid for all approach enables people at any income level to buy into Medicaid, paying premiums if their income is too high to qualify under current rules or if they are are otherwise ineligible. Medicaid provides a very comprehensive set of benefits –broader, in some ways, than commercial plans or Medicare. Prescription drugs are covered, and so is nursing home care. Even better for the patient, there are no co-pays or deductibles. Cost per patient is lower than commercial plans or Medicare because Medicaid pays physicians and hospitals rock bottom rates, and by law Medicaid gets the best pricing on drugs.

Interestingly, many of the insurance companies that have succeeded on the exchanges are Medicaid managed care plans like Centene and Molina that have adapted their products to the Obamacare population.

Medicaid for all would not preclude private plans from participating in the market. In fact, its existence could pave the way for a variety of supplemental or upgraded plans that could be purchased by individuals or offered by employers. That approach is similar to what happens in other rich countries like the UK.

In summary, Medicaid for all has some really good features:

  • It bends the cost curve considerably by forcing lower prices on hospitals, physicians and other providers. The main reason healthcare spending is higher in the US than in other rich countries is because unit prices are higher here. In one fell swoop that could be addressed, even if providers aren’t entirely pleased.
  • Drug pricing, which is such a lightning rod, could also be addressed quickly by bringing prices into the Medicaid framework, the one place where they are reasonably well controlled.
  • It would enable everyone who wants to be covered to be covered.
  • It would eliminate the vagaries of the exchanges. No one would need to worry about whether insurance companies would offer plans from year to year.
  • In theory, it could enable states to innovate, assuming that they are given the freedom to modify benefits around the edges.

Admittedly, Medicaid for all might dampen innovation by reducing the financial incentives for the introduction of new drugs and devices and placing more control in the hands of government. But frankly commercial health plans have not done a good job of spurring innovation or cutting costs; few people are likely to shed a tear if their role is reduced.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

 

GOP ignores the Cadillac already in the garage

3665019700_871e103b4b_z

Cadillac taxi?

The Wall Street Journal is a serious newspaper, so I had to laugh when I read GOP Senators weigh taxing employer health-plans. Apparently Senators are thinking about including a new tax in their Obamacare repeal bill in order to raise revenue, improve equity, and reduce the distorted incentives that divert taxable wages into non-taxable healthcare expenses.

We learn from the article that although it’s a solid policy idea and is being considered by many Republicans, “it could be politically risky, since it could expand the impact of GOP health proposals from Medicaid recipients and those who buy insurance on their own to the roughly 177 million people who get coverage through their employers.”

Republicans accused Obamacare opponents of not having read the Affordable Care Act before approving it in 2010. Seven years later it appears Republicans themselves haven’t read the law that they are now trying to overturn. If they did they would discover that Obamacare already includes this provision, an excise tax on high cost employer plans, nicknamed the Cadillac tax.

It’s far from perfect, but it’s not so bad either. It places a steep tax on corporate health spending above a certain high level, thus limiting the impact to the most serious cases, discouraging healthcare inflation, and phasing the tax in gradually.

So rather than wasting time discussing a new approach where consensus will be hard to forge, all the GOP has to do is leave the Cadillac tax in place. While they’re at it they might consider leaving the rest of the Obamacare in place, too, and working to improve the few areas that need a tune-up.

But I read the whole article in the print edition without finding any mention of the Cadillac tax. Someone must have pointed that out to the editor, because the online version tacked on two sentences at the end about it.

As I argued back in February (Can Congress agree on the Cadillac tax?) limiting the tax deductibility of employer sponsored health insurance is a good idea, but is opposed by a huge array of forces on the left and the right. I advocated then and am suggesting now, to leave the Cadillac tax in place.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Steward buys IASIS. I’m quoted in the Boston Globe

ID-100141651

Steward Health Care is taking control of IASIS Healthcare, which owns 18 hospitals in Western and Southern states. This deal follows on the heals of Steward’s purchase of eight hospitals in the midwest and Florida a few weeks ago.

Here’s what I told the Boston Globe (Steward merger would make it nation’s biggest private for-profit hospital system):

Some health industry analysts said the company has been ahead of others in investing in so-called accountable care.

The business model relies on payment contracts with insurers that are designed to encourage cost-efficient care, replacing the traditional fee-for-service model, which critics believe promotes unwarranted use of medical services.

“Steward is essentially betting that it can apply its model of accountable care and cost containment to a hospital system in other geographies,” said David E. Williams, president of the Boston consulting firm Health Business Group.

“This is a very interesting contrast with some of the mergers and acquisitions undertaken by the other major hospital systems in Massachusetts. While others have focused on bulking up to increase their market power over local health plans — which can drive up costs overall — the Steward/IASIS arrangement poses no such concerns,” he said.

As a scrappy, lower cost –and private equity owned!– community based system, Steward isn’t popular with the big, academic-based health systems in Massachusetts. Those systems may actually breathe a sigh of relief to see Steward turn its sights out of state.

There is some irony, though, that while the academics’ idea of innovation is to band together to maximize local market power and beat up on health plans, Steward is applying its expertise out of state, where it expects to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the acquired assets. Brass knuckles style market power approaches are not part of Steward’s expansion playbook.

———-

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.