Tag: insurance coverage

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.)

Insurance Reform in Virginia

Free-market reforms are hard to come by this year, but there’s just been a small victory for economic freedom and individual rights in Virginia. A bill enabling Virginia companies to offer life insurance benefits to people their employees choose, including same-sex partners, was passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in April. My friend Kelly Young discovered three years ago that Virginia law prevented his employer’s insurance company from selling him group life insurance on his partner. The company did offer such insurance in other states. As the Washington Blade reports:

Previously, state law permitted Virginia residents to take out group life insurance coverage only for a legal spouse or a child under age 25. But the new statute, which takes effect July 1, broadens that group of people to include anyone with whom a Virginia resident has [an insurable] interest, including a same-sex partner.

The bill, introduced by Del. Adam Ebbin (D), did not even get out of committee in 2008 and 2009, despite a ringing editorial endorsement by the conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch and the support of Virginia FREE, the state’s most effective business association. This year, perhaps because of the addition of a Republican, Del. Tom Rust, as chief sponsor, it moved smoothly through both houses. Gov. Robert McDonnell, who has come in for criticism in these parts, commendably signed the bill.

As the Times-Dispatch editorialized two years ago:

Note well what this bill is not: a mandate. Insurance companies would not be required to cover anybody they did not wish to. They would remain free to reject coverage they did not care to offer. They simply would not be prohibited from covering persons they are willing to cover.

In a free market, that is precisely how insurance ought to work: The buyer and the seller of the policy work out the terms between themselves. The state’s job is merely to enforce the contract — not to write it. Ebbin’s bill deserves a resounding and unanimous aye.

It took two more years, but at long last Virginia’s legislators have legalized this particular capitalist act among consenting adults. In this case, it’s likely to be same-sex couples who will benefit most from the removal of this barrier to commerce. Just another little step toward equality under the law.

Topics:

Yet. Another. Fraudulent. Cost Estimate.

House Democrats claim that a not-yet-released Congressional Budget Office report puts the cost of their revised health care overhaul at $940 billion over the next 10 years.

Though I have yet to see the CBO score, I’ll bet anyone a fancy lunch that it does not claim the legislation would cost the federal government just $940 billion from 2010 through 2019.

As former Congressional Budget Office director Donald Marron has explained over and over, the figure that Democrats consistently cite for the cost of their bills is only the CBO’s estimate of the cost of federal spending related to the expansion of health insurance coverage.  It is not the full cost to the federal government, because each bill also spends taxpayer dollars on other items.

Marron examined the CBO’s March 11 score of the bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve, and found an additional $96 billion of spending over 10 years.  If the most recent iteration of ObamaCare is similar, then new federal spending in that bill would be approximately $1.036 trillion – pushing the total over the president’s spending target.

Anyone care to take me up on that fancy-lunch wager?

Moreover, the on-budget costs of the legislation probably account for only 40 percent of the total costs.  The other 60 percent come from the private-sector mandates.  But Democrats have systematically suppressed any estimates of those hidden taxes, probably because such an estimate would reveal the full cost of the legislation to be closer to $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

It has been 272 days since Democrats introduced the first complete version of the president’s health plan.  We still haven’t seen an honest cost estimate.

Trouble in Massachusetts

Yesterday, Cato released a new study, “The Massachusetts Health Plan: Much Pain, Little Gain,” which showed that official estimates overstate the gains in health insurance coverage resulting from a 2006 Massachusetts law by at least 45 percent.  The study also finds: supporters understate the law’s cost by nearly 60 percent; government programs are crowding out private insurance; self-reported health improved for some but fell for others; and young adults are responding to the law by avoiding Massachusetts.

Given that the Massachusetts health plan bears a “remarkable resemblance” to the Obama plan, the study should serve as a warning sign to members of Congress, says Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies.

The study has received coverage in Investor’s Business Daily, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Detroit News, The Washington Times, the Reason Foundation and the Pioneer Institute.

Why the Democrats’ Health Care Overhaul May Die

The problem that Democrats have faced from Day One is finally coming to a head.

The Left and the health care industry both want universal health insurance coverage.  The industry, because universal coverage means massive new government subsidies. The Left, because that’s their religion.

But universal coverage is so expensive that Congress can’t get there without taxing Democrats.

  • Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is the biggest opponent of Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) tax on expensive health plans because that tax would hit West Virginia coal miners.
  • Unions vigorously oppose that tax because it would hit their members.
  • Moderate Democrats in the House oppose Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-NY) supposed “millionaires surtax” because they know it would hit small businesses in their districts.

And on and on…

But if congressional leaders pare back those taxes, they lose the support of the health care industry, which wants its subsidies.

  • That’s why the health insurance lobby funded this PriceWaterhouseCoopers study saying that premiums would rise under the Baucus bill: the $500 billion bailout they would receive isn’t enough.  They also want – they demand –  steep taxes on Americans who don’t buy their products.
  • The drug companies, the hospitals, and the physician groups are likewise demanding big subsidies, and will run ads to kill the whole effort if those subsidies aren’t big enough.

As always, health economist Uwe Reinhardt put it colorfully:

It’s no different from Iraq with all the different tribes…‘How does it affect the money flow to my interest group?’  They are all sitting in the woods with their machine guns, waiting to shoot.

Once the shooting starts, industry opposition will sway even Democratic members, because there are physicians and hospitals and employers and insurance-industry employees in every state and congressional district.

Can President Obama and the congressional leadership satisfy both groups?  My guess is, probably not, and this misguided effort at “reform” will therefore die.  Again.

Have the Democrats Outsmarted the Republicans on Health Care?

In their attempt to defeat Obamacare, Republicans have focused their criticism on the public option, painting it as the most objectionable feature of existing proposals. Senator Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), has now proposed a plan without the public option. This leaves the Republicans in an awkward position, especially since Baucus’s plan is projected to cost less than earlier proposals.

If Republicans oppose the Baucus plan, they surely risk the ire of voters who will be told during the mid-term elections, “The Republicans blocked a plan that would have covered the uninsured and reduced the deficit.”

The problem is, the public option was never the crucial issue; instead, it was the mandate to purchase insurance. Once government mandates insurance coverage, it gets to define what constitutes insurance, which means it can ban pre-existing condition clauses and the like. The mandate also”justifies” large subsidies for insurance, to avoid non-compliance with the mandate. So, an individual mandate, which the Baucus plan includes, implies a rapid takeover of the entire health care system by the federal government.

Something like the Baucus plan will pass. It will either cost far more than existing projections, if government administrators fail to impose the restrictions on reimbursements that generate the projected cost savings, or it will involve massive rationing of care.

The Democrats played it perfectly. The Republicans got sucker-punched.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

“Why Health Care Reform Could Fail Again”

Former Clinton administration adviser Stanley Greenberg has an illuminating article in The New Republic.  Greenberg compared the polls he did during the Clinton health care debate to his recent polling on President Obama’s proposed reforms:

Perhaps I should know better than to have sensed any profound changes in the country. And, when I got the results for the new survey, I looked at each question warily, remembering how it all went badly wrong. As I reached the last of the questions, I exclaimed: “Oh no. It can’t be. Nothing’s changed.”…

The country divides evenly on whether the greater risk is an unchanged status quo or government reforms that “create new problems.” And, finally, Obama might want to pay attention to how closely his situation echoes Clinton’s. Then and now, more people favor the president’s health care plan than oppose it, but the supporters make up less than a majority.

If anything, I found on most of these questions that the desire for change and support for reform was slightly stronger 16 years ago, underscoring the importance of learning some lessons from that history…

Our inability to talk credibly about how we would reduce health care spending or costs for individuals and the country built a contradiction into all our efforts–the more we talked about the comprehensiveness of our plans, the more voters worried this would yield higher premiums or higher taxes. Very quickly, voters came to conclude that their families would face higher costs.

And those dynamics are still in play. In my recent polling, I found that voters are skeptical about claims that reform will reduce costs and personal health outlays. Claims about simplicity, information-technology modernization, and best practices don’t seem to be enough to persuade them otherwise…

It may surprise you that Obama has already lost seniors, according to our current survey–only one-third approve of his plan. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see there isn’t much in it for them. There is already talk of carving out major savings from Medicare and, unlike during Clinton’s battle, no offer of a new drug benefit. Clearly, they need to see health care gains for themselves too…

With few illusions about the old system, union households are strong supporters of Obama’s proposal. Yet the members will ultimately judge whether the plan is good for their families–and I’m certain that all the talk about taxing insurance contributions has not gone unnoticed…

[W]hile voters have great confidence in Obama and his administration, they are worried about the deficits and spending and the government bailouts of the irresponsible. So, while voters want to see a rebalancing away from greed and toward the public good, almost half the citizenry is worried the government may get it wrong.Ross Perot is a distant memory, but his more libertarian, blue-collar male voters are very much alive. They are pretty certain government will mess this up–and only about 30 percent support Obama’s health care plan right now. With Republicans reciting their mantra about no “government takeover” of health care, the plan’s opponents have found a common text…

Most are not at all satisfied with a system that has forced them to trade higher wages for continued health insurance coverage and other compromises. But those personal compromises to get satisfactory coverage will mean people can live a little longer with the status quo and want to make sure the proposed changes really will make things better for their families.

Those who support real health care reform should take note.