Tag: health plan

Why Should Politicians and Bureaucrats Decide Whether Breast-Cancer Patients Can Take Avastin?

Today’s Washington Post contains an article titled, “FDA Considers Revoking Approval of Avastin for Advanced Breast Cancer.”  An excerpt:

The debate over Avastin, prescribed to about 17,500 women with breast cancer a year, has become entangled in the politically explosive struggle over medical spending and effectiveness that flared during the battle over health-care reform: How should the government balance protecting patients and controlling costs without restricting access to cutting-edge, and often costly, treatments?

A better question is: why should the government be the one to strike that balance?  Why shouldn’t some women be able to sign up for a health plan that covers Avastin, while others are free to make a different choice?

Your Health Insurance, Designed by Lobbyists

Christopher Weaver of Kaiser Health News has an excellent article in today’s Washington Post on the various government agencies that will now be deciding what health insurance coverage you must purchase, and how many of those decisions will ultimately fall to lobbyists and politicians:

For years, an obscure federal task force sifted through medical literature on colonoscopies, prostate-cancer screening and fluoride treatments, ferreting out the best evidence for doctors to use in caring for their patients. But now its recommendations have financial implications, raising the stakes for patients, doctors and others in the health-care industry.

Under the new health-care overhaul law, health insurers will be required to pay fully for services that get an A or B recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force…[which] puts the group in the cross hairs of lobbyists and disease advocates eager to see their top priorities – routine screening for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes or HIV, for example – become covered services.

And it’s not just the USPSTF that will be deciding what coverage you must purchase:

[P]lans must also cover a set of standard vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, as well as screening practices for children that have been developed by the Health Resources and Services Administration in conjunction the American Academy of Pediatrics. Health plans will also be required to cover additional preventative care for women recommended under new guidelines that the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to issue by August 2011.

The chairman of the USPSTF says the task force will try “to stay true to the methods and the evidence… the science needs to come first.”  A noble sentiment, but as my colleague Peter Van Doren likes to say, “When politics and science conflict, politics wins.”  Witness how industry lobbyists have killed or neutered every single government agency that has ever dared to produce useful comparative-effectiveness research.  (You’re next, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute!)

When government agencies are making non-scientific value judgments–e.g., are these studies reliable enough to merit an A or B recommendation? what should be the thresholds for an A or B recommendation? will the benefits of mandating this coverage outweigh the costs?–politics does even better.  Witness Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) overruling a USPSTF recommendation when she “inserted an amendment in the [new] health-care law to explicitly cover regular mammograms for women between 40 and 50. “

Speaking of value judgments, the one flaw in Weaver’s article is that it inadvertently conveys a value judgment as if it were fact.  He writes that the mandate to purchase coverage for preventive services is “good news for patients” and that 88 million Americans “will benefit.”  Whether the mandate is good news for patients depends on whether patients value the added coverage more than the additional premiums they must pay.  (The administration estimates that premiums for affected consumers will rise an average of 1.5 percent.  One insurer puts the average cost at 3-4 percent of premiums.  Naturally, some consumers will face above-average costs.)  Whether the benefits outweigh the costs is ultimately a subjective determination. (The best way to find out, as it happens, is to let consumers make the decision themselves.)

ObamaCare Regs Will Increase Premiums, Reduce Wages, Force Americans to Change Coverage

Today, the Obama administration issued new health insurance regulations as part of its effort to implement ObamaCare.  According to The New York Times:

the rules appear to fall short of the sweeping commitments President Obama made while trying to reassure the public in the fight over health legislation.

One of those commitments was that people who are satisfied with their health insurance will be able to keep their existing health plans. Of course, there is a tension between that goal and ObamaCare’s goal of requiring every American to purchase a minimum amount of health insurance coverage.

The new regulations explain how the government will interpret ObamaCare’s “grandfather” clause, which allows some health plans to continue as they exist today. If an insurer makes too many changes to its health plan, or if an employer or individual purchaser selects a different health plan, then the consumer loses the protection of ObamaCare’s grandfather clause. The consumer must then purchase the full array of coverage that ObamaCare requires, which can increase premiums significantly.

How many Americans will lose this protection?  Again, The Times:

About half of employer-sponsored health plans will see such changes by the end of 2013, the administration says in an economic analysis of the rules.

What are some of the ways that consumers can lose this protection?

If, for example, an employer is paying 60 percent of the cost of family coverage, it would run afoul of the rules if it cut its share to 50 percent.

An employer would also lose its exempt status if it increased co-payments for doctor’s visits to $45, from $30 — a 50 percent increase — while medical inflation was 8 percent…

An insurer loses its special protection…if, for example, it requires patients to pay 25 percent of the bill for surgery, rather than the 20 percent charged in the past…

If [insurers] want to retain their grandfathered status, they cannot reduce any annual dollar limit that was in place on March 23.

The upshot of these regulations is this:  Health premiums, which were going to keep rising anyway, will rise even higher as a result of ObamaCare.  If employers or consumers try to cope with those rising premiums by paring back the amount of coverage they purchase, they lose their “grandfather” protections, and ObamaCare forces them to purchase even more coverage.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The requirement that employers sustain their “contribution” to the cost of health benefits, meanwhile, will hide ObamaCare’s effect on health insurance premiums.  Health economists agree, almost universally, that the “employer contribution” is a fiction; employers merely deduct from the employee’s overall compensation package whatever they pay toward health benefits.  In other words, the employee pays for her health benefits, not the employer.  Forcing employers to maintain their current “contribution” essentially requires them to hide much of ObamaCare’s cost in the form of lower wages, which workers are less likely to associate with the law than rising premiums.

What Do The Economist’s Bloggers Think a Free Market Is, Anyway?

A correspondent for The Economist, whose initials are M.S., posts this on the Democracy in America blog:

[T]he new health-care-reform law passed in March is an entirely private-insurer, free-market-based reform. If someone were to refer to it as a “government takeover of the health-care sector”, that person would hold a factually incorrect ideological belief.

I wonder what convinced M.S. that the new health care law is an entirely free-market-based reform.  Was it the expansion of the government’s Medicaid program to another 16 million Americans?  Was it the 19-million-plus other Americans who will receive government subsidies to purchase private health insurance? Was it the new price controls that the law imposes on health insurance?  Or the price and exchange controls that it will extend to even more of the market?  Was it the dynamics those regulations set in motion, which will reduce variety and innovation in health insurance?  Was it the mandates that require private actors to spend their resources according to the wishes of the state?  Or the new federal regulations that will shape every health insurance plan in the United States, whether purchased through the employer-based market, the individual market, or the new health insurance “exchanges”?  Was it the half-trillion dollars of (explicit) tax increases over the next 10 years?  

I wonder what it is about this law that M.S. thinks is consonant with the principles of a free market.  Perhaps we have a different idea of what “free” means.

M.S. lists other “factually incorrect beliefs,” including:

that the Clinton plan would deny patients their choice of doctor, and that the health-care-reform bills in Congress at the time involved government “death panels” that could decide to withhold care from elderly patients on a cost-benefit basis.

I won’t dredge up the Clinton health plan.  But I have previously demonstrated that, when Sarah Palin claimed that President Obama wanted to give a government panel the power to deny medical care to the elderly and disabled based on cost-effectiveness criteria, the president had in fact proposed a panel with the power to do exactly that.

I agree with M.S. about this much: “once people are exposed to false information, it’s extremely difficult to convince them it’s false.”

Would ObamaCare Improve Public Health? Probably Not.

George Avery is an assistant professor of public health at Purdue University.  In today’s Daily Caller, Avery rebuts claims that the Obama health plan would improve public health:

The idea that health care contributes significantly to population health is both intuitively appealing and untrue….

In fact, federal “reform” often hurts the public health system. Both public health and health care experts have criticized Medicare and Medicaid, enacted by Congress in 1965, for changing the focus of health care practitioners from prevention to treatment….

Requiring all Americans purchase health insurance, which the current bills hope to do, would not address the underlying socio-economic issues at the root of most public health problems….

Indeed, access to health care can help individual patients, but can also aggravate some public health problems…. High rates of surgical intervention increase the risk and spread of drug resistant infections like MRSA.

Avery is the author of the Cato Institute briefing paper, “Scientific Misconduct: The Manipulation of Evidence for Political Advocacy in Health Care and Climate Policy.”

Questions for Thoughtful ObamaCare Supporters, Part III

I’ve already posted two series of such queries.  But every day brings new questions to mind.  So here are a few more:

Massachusetts Treasurer Blasts RomneyCare and, Equivalently, ObamaCare

Massachusetts state treasurer and recent Democrat Timothy Cahill has harsh words for the health plan foisted on his state and the identical plan that President Obama is trying to foist on the nation.  From The Boston Globe:

“If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years,” Cahill said in a press conference in his office.

Echoing criticism leveled by congressional Republicans in recent weeks, Cahill said, “It is time for the president, the Democratic leadership, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan that does not threaten to bankrupt this country.”

[T]he state’s health insurance law…Cahill said, “has nearly bankrupted the state.”

Cahill said the law is being sustained only with the help of federal aid, which he suggested that the Obama administration is funneling to Massachusetts to help the president make the case for a similar plan in Congress.

“The real problem is the sucking sound of money that has been going in to pay for this health care reform,” Cahill said. “And I would argue that we’re being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through” Congress.

Commonwealth Connector, the independent state agency established to help residents find the health insurance, has “totally failed,” to create competition and connect people with affordable insurance, Cahill said, pointing out that 68 percent of the residents it serves receive subsidized care.

“We haven’t done anything about driving down costs,” Cahill said. “We haven’t helped small business. We haven’t changed the way we pay for health care and the way we deliver it.”…

Asked for solutions today, Cahill said he would seek to “level the playing field” between hospitals that charge different rates for similar procedures, seek to increase competition by allowing health insurance companies plans to sell plans across state lines, and would slash benefits mandated under state law.

For more on the Massachusetts health plan, see “The Massachusetts Health Plan: Much Pain, Little Gain.”

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