Tag: aca

‘The White House Is Resorting to Unsubstantiated Happy Talk’ on ObamaCare

Last week, the White House claimed 28 states are “on their way” toward creating ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges. Here’s what Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinks about that:

[E]ven if one were to accept the White House’s accounting…that would mean that 22 states — roughly 40 percent of the country — are not “on their way” toward erecting the Obamacare exchanges. Isn’t that a problem? Further, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that many of the 28 states that are supposedly “on their way” really aren’t “on their way.”…

A more accurate description of what is going would go like this…the administration can rightly claim 15 states are more or less playing ball with them…

[T]here’s a very long list of states — nearly 30 — with strong Republican governors who have absolutely no interest in doing anything to solidify the position of Obamacare…

In other states, with mixed political control, it’s not entirely clear what direction they will go, as the legislatures and the governors are either at odds over the issue or have deferred taking any definitive steps…

So, a fair reading of what’s really going on is that the vast majority of states are not proceeding apace to implement Obamacare, and there’s no prospect of their doing so anytime soon…

Obamacare is under siege at this point. It is on shaky ground legally. It’s opposed by a plurality of voters. And there’s no real plan in view for actually implementing it, even if it were to survive the various challenges coming its way. No wonder the White House is resorting to unsubstantiated happy talk.

Read the whole thing.

WSJ Debate: Should the Government Require You to Purchase Health Insurance?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, I debate ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Here’s the teaser:

Should Everyone Be Required to Have Health Insurance?

Yes, says Karen Davenport of George Washington University, because it’s the key to making health care more affordable and accessible. No, says Michael F. Cannon from the Cato Institute, because it will make health care more costly and scarce.

I did not write that unfortunate title, which uses the passive voice to conceal who’s doing the requiring. Hint: we ain’t talking about your conscience. I like to say that if we banned the passive voice–e.g., doctors are paid on a fee-for-service basis–it would take two minutes to realize that government creates most of our health care problems, and we would repeal all subsidies, mandates, and regulations within two hours.

Davenport’s article makes one claim to which I was not able to respond: that under ObamaCare, “global payment approaches and other payment changes are designed [gaa! passive voice!] to improve care for patients with chronic illnesses.” Fortunately for humanity, I already dispatched that claim last week in a blog post titled, “Oops, Maybe ObamaCare’s Cost Controls Won’t Work after All.”

So here are your assignments for today. Read both articles. Don’t forget to take the quiz. Then, watch the related 2008 video I posted under the title, “Does Karen Davenport Owe Me $40?”, and decide for yourself whether Karen Davenport does indeed owe me $40. If you think yes, be sure to tell her so in an email to the address provided at the end of her article.

How Sebelius Plans to Save Obamacare: Creating Dependence

By now, probably everyone has heard these old Obamacare saws:

March 9, 2010 - “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi)

March 28, 2010 - “As more and more people get to understand what’s in this bill, people are going to like it.” (Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell)

August 4, 2010 - “It’s very obvious that people have a lack of understanding of our health care reform bill… The more people learn about this bill, the more they like it… The trend is turning all over America today… Once you explain what’s in the bill, the American people of course like it.” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid)

Here’s how those predictions have borne out:

Thus supporters have now gone from claiming that of course the public will love Obamacare to declaring, We need to make people dependent on government for their health care pronto, or Obamacare is sunk:

January 19, 2012 - “The more we educate people about the law, the more they’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits. The more they take advantage of the benefits, the harder it will be for opponents to take those benefits away. Once you have something and you like it and you’re using it, you will fight with your own member of Congress to keep it.” (HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

Obamacare will not benefit people by lowering the cost of medical care, as even Sebelius must know by now. The only way Obamacare will “benefit” anybody is by making him or her the recipient of an explicit or implicit government transfer. That is, Obamacare is going to rob Peter to subsidize Paul. Obamacare’s survival depends on making Paul dependent on that government transfer. I’m just surprised Sebelius is being so up front about it.

Obamacare’s Sweetheart Deal for Massachusetts

A bunch of rural hospitals are upset about a provision of Obamacare that benefits Massachusetts above all other states. Forgive the bureaucratese, but you really have to read the Medicare Price Control Payment Advisory Commission’s description to appreciate the situation:

Among the proposed wage index reclassifications or exceptions granted to hospitals for FY2012, the rural floor exception triggered in the state of Massachusetts will have a large impact on hospital payments. Beginning in FY 2012, the conversion of Nantucket Cottage Hospital from a critical access hospital to an IPPS hospital will trigger the rural floor wage index exception for the 60 urban hospitals in the state of Massachusetts, increasing wage indexes for these hospitals from an average of 1.16 in FY2011 to 1.35 in FY2012. Nantucket Cottage Hospital is a rural island hospital, which has 15 inpatient beds and serves approximately 150 Medicare inpatients per year. This hospital will become the only rural IPPS hospital in the state of Massachusetts. As a result of this change in one small hospital’s status, and the subsequent change in the wage index, payment rates for urban hospitals in Massachusetts will increase by 8 percent, or by more than $200 million in FY 2012. These extra payments will be made budget neutral at the national level, and therefore all hospitals—including rural hospitals—will absorb the financial loss.

Got that? One small, rural, island hospital in Massachusetts changes its Medicare status, and—presto!—the other 60 Massachusetts hospitals suddenly qualify for an extra $200 million in Medicare subsidies. Land of the free! A letter from several state hospital associations complains the amount is actually $367 million per year. The best part: Medicare scrounges up that $200-$367 million by reducing subsidies to other states. Thus the nasty letter from the lobbyists for non-Massachusetts hospitals.

Cato adjunct scholar David Hyman writes about this dynamic in his excellent satire, Medicare Meets Mephistopheles:

Geographically based envy has also precipitated a “formula fight” among the states, complete with litigation, coalitions of aggrieved states and senior citizens, coverage in newspapers and editorials, and statements from concerned legislators… [C]ertain state medical societies have been particularly insistent that their states are being shortchanged by the Medicare program. These interest groups have had great success in persuading their elected representatives to change Medicare’s reimbursement formulas, so the Medicare money train unloads their “fair share.”

I’ve written before about how Romneycare solidified layers of corruption whereby Massachusetts officials (with the complicity of the Bush administration) bilked taxpayers in the other 49 states. It turns out that Obamacare also has a sweetheart deal for Massachusetts. Who knew Romneycare and Obamacare had so much in common?

‘Will the Feds Be Ready With the Fallback Insurance Exchanges by October 2013?’

That’s the title of Robert Laszewski’s latest blog post:

The White House just released a report saying that good progress is being made [toward creating health insurance Exchanges] in 28 states. That begs the question, what about the other 22?

Writing in Kaiser Health News, Julie Appleby recently reported that that HHS has let just two contracts toward building the federal fallback exchanges. One is for $69 million to build the data hub so that federal agencies can share data with the exchanges–the IRS for example. The other contract is more directly related to building federal fallback exchanges, a $94 million contract.

But in their progress report today, the administration said that they have already advanced $729 million to the states for exchange construction––17 of those states receiving $1 million, or less. So, more than $700 million has gone to 33 states–and that is just federal money to date.

If the feds are going to be ready to launch 10 or 20 federal fallback exchanges these numbers just don’t compute. It is going to take a lot more than the $94 million HHS has contracted for to launch that many federal exchanges in the states that refuse to do so.

HHS says they will be ready. But they have been awfully secret over just how they are going to have lots of exchanges ready to go in 20 months. It is hard to see how that $94 million contract is more than just a down payment…

Right now, the numbers don’t compute–the number of states that could well not be ready, the federal money being spent by states that say they will offer exchanges, and the much less money HHS admits to be spending for those that will not be ready.

Where’s the plan?

The administration’s claim that 28 states are taking “strong steps” toward creating Exchanges is questionable. For one thing, the administration should update their “good progress” count to reflect the fact that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) just returned a $37 million ObamaCare grant and refused to create an Exchange. In that light, the administration’s announcement is reminiscent of a scene from Animal House:

The question of whether states create ObamaCare Exchanges is, of course, central to the survival of the law.

 

Wisconsin Stiff-Arms ObamaCare

For the better part of a year, I have been urging states to refuse to implement ObamaCare, and to send any ObamaCare grants back to Washington, D.C.. In October, I was pleased to see the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Haislmaier call on states to do the same.

Late yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) became the latest governor to heed that advice. Walker announced Wisconsin will return the $37 million “Early Innovator Grant” it received from the Obama administration under the health care law.

Wisconsin never should have accepted that money. Its purpose was to rope state officials into implementing a law that Walker himself described as “unprecedented,” “unconstitutional,” and jeopardizing “the foundational principle, enshrined in our Constitution, that the federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers.” Yet Walker accepted the Early Innovator Grant after Wisconsin joined the Florida v. HHS lawsuit, and after a federal district court declared the entire law unconstitutional and void.

Nevertheless, Walker did the right thing by joining the other two GOP governors who received Early Innovator Grants—Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin—in sending the money back. Walker’s move probably took no small amount of political courage, given how hard the health insurance industry and other ObamaCare profiteers—including prominent Republicans—have been lobbying states like Wisconsin to create an Exchange.

Kudos.

Oops, Maybe ObamaCare’s Cost Controls Won’t Work after All

One of ObamaCare’s big selling points was that it would launch lots of pilot programs so that Medicare bureaucrats could learn how to reduce health care costs and improve the quality of care. Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office threw cold water on the idea.

In 2010, Peter Orszag and Ezekiel Emanuel explained the promise of ObamaCare’s pilot programs:

[The law’s] pilot programs involving bundled payments will provide physicians and hospitals with incentives to coordinate care for patients with chronic illnesses: keeping these patients healthy and preventing hospitalizations will be financially advantageous…And the secretary of health and human services (HHS) is empowered to expand successful pilot programs without the need for additional legislation.

Atul Gawande wrote even more glowingly:

The bill tests, for instance, a number of ways that federal insurers could pay for care. Medicare and Medicaid currently pay clinicians the same amount regardless of results. But there is a pilot program to increase payments for doctors who deliver high-quality care at lower cost, while reducing payments for those who deliver low-quality care at higher cost. There’s a program that would pay bonuses to hospitals that improve patient results after heart failure, pneumonia, and surgery. There’s a program that would impose financial penalties on institutions with high rates of infections transmitted by…

You get the idea.

The thing is, pilot programs in Medicare are not new.  And in a review of dozens of Medicare pilot programs released yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office revealed they aren’t very successful, either:

The disease management and care coordination demonstrations comprised 34 programs…

In nearly every program, spending was either unchanged or increased relative to the spending that would have occurred in the absence of the program, when the fees paid to the participating organizations were considered…

Only one of the four demonstrations of value-based payment has yielded significant savings for the Medicare program.

No big deal, you say. Startups fail all the time. What’s important is not that 37 startups failed, but that one succeeded.

That’s how things are supposed to work. But as Alain Enthoven explained to Gawande, the really perverse thing about Medicare pilot programs is that even the successful ones die:

Gawande got it wrong about pilots…The Medical Industrial Complex does not want such pilots and often strangles them in the crib. For example, nothing lasting and significant came of the pilot to reward people for getting their heart bypass surgery at regional centers of excellence. I don’t remember the details of how it died, but I believe it was tried and went nowhere.  No doubt every hospital thought it was a center of excellence and wanted to be so rewarded.

Another more recent example is durable medical equipment.  David Leonhardt had an excellent article in the New York Times on June 25, 2008 called “High Medicare Costs Courtesy of Congress.”  Someone had sold the good idea that prices of durable medical equipment should be determined by competition, and there was a provision in law for pilots to test competition. The industry lobbied hard to stop it and promulgated scare stories. “Grandma won’t get her oxygen.”  Leonhardt recounts how Democratic and Republican leaders got together and postponed the pilot— and, I suspect, postponed it forever.  There were proposals to test health plan competition, fought off by the industry of course.  So this is not a fertile political environment for pilots.  In fact, one of the most important lessons that has come out of the current “reform” process is the enormous power of the medical industrial complex and their large financial contributions and armies of lobbyists to block any significant cost containment.

Rather than a reason for more government interference in health care, the death of these pilots is a consequence of government interference. If the federal Medicare program weren’t such an enormous player in the U.S. health care sector, industry lobbyists (and their servants in Congress) wouldn’t have so many ways to protect themselves from competition by more efficient providers.

Enthoven summed up ObamaCare’s approach to cost control best:

The American people are being deceived. We are being told that health expenditure must be curbed, therefore “reform is necessary.”  But the bills in Congress, as Gawande acknowledges, do little or nothing to curb the expenditures.  When the American people come to understand that “reform” was not followed by improvement, they are likely to be disappointed.  Our anguish is only intensified by the fact that the Republicans are no better at fiscal responsibility, probably worse as they demagogue reasonable attempts to limit expenditures.

Congress is sending the world an unmistakable signal that it is unable or unwilling to control health expenditures and the fiscal deficit.  That is not going to make it easier to sell Treasury bonds on international markets. I fear this will lead to higher interest rates.

FYI, Enthoven wrote those words in 2009.