Category Archives: Health Care

Trump is Right: Healthcare is Complex, but it does not have to be

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

 

No doubt about it, the healthcare system in America is a mess. Obamacare is not working as intended and the proposed Republican replacement is being castigated, even by Republicans, as potentially even worse. Democrats complain the American Health Care Act (ACA) takes too much away from people who need coverage the most. Republicans who oppose the ACA call it “Obamacare-lite” and complain it does not go far enough to repeal Obamacare; and that it creates an entirely new entitlement program.  

The reality is that resolving the healthcare challenge is simple, but it is made complex because Republicans and Democrats have diametrically divergent views on what the end result should be. In simple terms, the Republicans believe the answer lies in assuring that all Americans have “access” to healthcare coverage, while the Democrats believe the answer lies in assuring that all Americans actually have healthcare coverage. There is a big difference between having access to healthcare coverage that an individual needs but cannot afford and providing the needed coverage, regardless of the ability to pay.

This difference exists because the political leaders have failed to address and resolve the most fundamental healthcare question: Is basic healthcare a right or a privilege?

The Republicans believe that healthcare is a privilege, and thus, so long as there is universal access to healthcare coverage (no matter what form or price), the problem is solved. (It should be noted that prior to becoming president, Trump consistently argued that healthcare coverage is a right.) On the other hand, Democrats take the position that every American citizen, regardless of financial status, has a right to receive basic healthcare.

It is this philosophical difference that motivates the Republicans (believing healthcare is a privilege) to propose in the ACA that Medicaid (the state/federal plan that covers low income citizens) funding be slashed. (This is one of the chief reasons why the Congressional Budget Office estimated that as many as 24 million Americans will lose their coverage under the Republican plan.) Conversely, (believing that healthcare is a right) the Democrats used Obamacare to expand Medicaid that covered 15 million people who previously could not afford coverage of any type.

There can be no effective bipartisan agreement on the best form of a healthcare system, unless or until there is a debate and resolution of the question as to whether healthcare is a basic right of every American citizen or a privilege based on means to pay. If, as a society, we decide that healthcare is indeed a privilege, then the Republican ACA plan will work just fine. If, we as a society decide (as virtually every other industrialized nation has) that basic healthcare, like a basic education, is a natural right of every American citizen, then we can work together in a bipartisan way to find the best way to achieve that goal.

Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Ironically, if it is decided that healthcare is a basic right, it would call for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, because it has failed to achieve the objective of covering all Americans. But such a replacement would be based on the rights of all, rather than the privilege of a few to have healthcare.

If this approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare is taken, the solution is right in front of us. It is a healthcare system already in operation. It has proven to be effective and efficient; it has high consumer satisfaction and acceptance. Maybe even more important, it is a plan that President Trump has endorsed and pledged to protect.

Taking the complexity out of the healthcare solution.

The simplest and most effective way to solve the healthcare crisis is to merge the Medicare and Medicaid systems into one program that, on a phased in basis, will provide basic health care services to every American citizen, regardless of age, social status or income.

There would be no need to create another bureaucracy. Both of these programs have processes and procedures in place and in point of fact are paying for the health services provided by clinics, hospitals and doctors for millions of Americans age 65 and over, along with millions more of low income citizens. Patients covered by Medicare are free to select any of the 95 percent of the doctors, clinics and hospitals that accept Medicare payments. This is not the government deciding or providing the healthcare, but simply being the “single payer” of the benefits provided.

Of course merging and expanding Medicare and Medicaid into a universal healthcare system can’t be done with a flip of a switch, but an organized phase-in of this system over time for those not currently covered under Medicare or Medicaid could smooth the way. This would allow for Obamacare, along with all other forms of healthcare such as individual and employer group plans, to be repealed and phased out at the same pace the new system is expanded.

Certainly there will be concerns about the cost of such a change, but a number of serious studies have concluded that diverting all expenditures on the current system (federal, state, individual and employer) toward this new system and combining this with premiums, deductibles and co-pays based on income, would create more efficiency and actually be less costly than the current system. President Trump has even made this point in interviews.

Using this approach to fixing the healthcare system could be a win-win for everyone. Trump and the Republicans could fulfill their campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare; Trump could remain consistent in his call for universal healthcare and his pledge to protect Medicare and, most important, all Americans could finally join the millions of citizens of every other industrialized nation in the world for whom basic healthcare is a right of citizenship, not just a privilege for the wealthy.

So What Exactly is Wrong With “Single-Payer” Healthcare?

160

 

About a month ago, I posted a blog (click here to read) making the case that Obamacare has failed to achieve its primary objective of providing affordable healthcare for all Americans. While 17 million more Americans now have health coverage under Obamacare, it is far from affordable and there are still almost 30 million Americans who lack any form of healthcare. My suggestion was to repeal Obamacare and replace it by expanding Medicare and Medicaid, so that all Americans would be guaranteed access to basic healthcare.

The reaction to the blog was swift and sometime acerbic. Comments split pretty much along party lines, but by far most of those who opposed my proposal did so by criticizing it as a “single-payer” system. I was not surprised by that, but that argument is an old dog that just won’t hunt any longer.

You see, “single-payer” is a dog-whistle phrase the insurance industry – and their lobbyist friends – created and have used for decades to protect their turf in the healthcare business. The “single-payer” concept has become a code-word derisively repeated ad nauseam by the insurance industry and its supporters, arguing that “single-payer” is a dark conspiracy of the part of the government to usurp the freedom and right of Americans to select a personal healthcare provider and manage their own healthcare.   

The strategy employed by the insurance industry in this deceitful, greed-driven approach has been to shift the focus away from the need and right of individuals to access affordable healthcare and instead, make it a debate about individual freedom. That’s a nice trick if you can pull it off, but the insurance companies along their well-funded friends have done it.

For decades, the idea of a single-payer healthcare system has been metaphorically the “third-rail” of politics that was so charged with controversy that politicians were afraid to touch it. We see how terrified politicians are to take on the NRA and responsible gun control; well it has been the same with politicians taking on the insurance industry with a single-payer system of healthcare. The chief reason President Obama was willing to accept the insurance industry centered cumbersome system of “insurance exchanges” that are at the core of Obamacare was because he feared taking on the myths of “single-payer” head on. The result is that the insurance companies get their way and their profits and the rest of us are stuck with a muddled, inefficient and high-cost healthcare system. And millions more Americans still lack access to basic healthcare.

So What Really is a Single-Payer System?

A single-payer healthcare system is simple. Under such a plan the government would collect the taxes and premiums needed to fund universal healthcare. The government would then contract with and reimburse private doctors and hospitals for the healthcare services they provide.

What would such a plan look like and how would it work?   

Well, many may not realize it, but Medicare is an example of this dreaded single-payer system. Medicare has proven to work well and covers millions of Americans – including me — without a loss of freedom or choice. Anyone covered under Medicare has the right to choose any doctor or healthcare provider they desire; so long as that doctor or hospital accepts Medicare. The most recent survey determined that over 90 percent of all doctors and virtually every hospital accepted Medicare payments.

It should be noted that Medicare gives those covered the freedom to not only select their personal provider, but virtually any type of medically necessary service. For example, Medicare covers the reasonable costs of doctor, hospital, preventative care, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs. Contrary to what critics of the single-payer system claim, Medicare actually expands the freedom of individuals to manage their healthcare, because it lowers the financial barriers to selecting the doctor or hospital they choose.  

Those fearful of a single-payer system might suggest that such an all-encompassing government program would be inefficient and costly. Based on the history of other government programs, that might seem logical, but the reality is that the administrative costs for Medicare are at about 2 percent of total services. At the same time, the overall embedded administrative costs in the private healthcare system amount to over 30 percent of the services provided.

The insurance industry and its supporters argue that expanding the single-payer concept of Medicare and Medicaid to all Americans would bankrupt the system, but the truth is it would secure the financial viability of both programs. The system could be funded with premiums paid (based upon ability) by those covered and employer health taxes (employers would actually save money by not being required to provide coverage), but the most significant funding would come from savings obtained by replacing the current system of patchwork coverage. America now has the most inefficient and highest cost system of any industrialized nation; while failing to provide coverage for all citizens. Redirecting the expenditures from this failed private system would provide more than adequate funding for the single-payer Medicare and Medicaid systems. Furthermore, with everyone covered under the same plan, the government would have the clout to monitor and control the costs of services and medication.

The bottom line is that it is all well and good to discuss and debate whether all Americans should have a right to basic healthcare and if expanding Medicare and Medicaid is the way to provide it. However, to base opposition to these questions solely on the “evils” of a single-payer system is to fall prey to the self-serving, greedy and disingenuous arguments of the health insurance industry.  

BuyBox2

Repeal Obamacare!

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

There is no doubt that The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — AKA Obamacare – has failed to achieve its most fundamental objectives. The primary goal of the legislation was to make health insurance available to all Americans, with the parallel promise that this health care would be affordable. Obamacare has failed on both points and is so flawed it should be repealed.  

While 17 million Americans have been added to the rolls of those insured, there are still over 25 million who remain uninsured. Furthermore, those who have been able to obtain medical insurance are finding that the coverage is anything but affordable. Once the newly insured are signed-on, the insurance companies (unencumbered by regulation) are systematically raising the cost of coverage by as much as 30 to 50 percent annually.

There are (at least) three reasons for the failure of Obamacare: 1) Obama was willing to give up on principles in order to get any law passed. 2) To gain their support, insurance companies were allowed to participate in the design of the plan in a way that would benefit them financially. 3) The Republicans were unwilling to support any plan that would guarantee insurance coverage for all Americans.

The problems with Obamacare remain unresolved because it has become no more than a ball in a political rugby scrum. The plan’s supporters – mostly Democrats — are struggling to find ways to fix the unfixable, while Republicans remain fixated on blanket repeal. Both of these approaches to Obamacare talk at the problems but fail to offer real solutions. Have you noticed that one group is not complaining about Obamacare? That would be the insurance companies, because they are too busy piling up huge profits from Obamacare.  

As a general proposition, the Republican Party believes that medical care is a privilege not a right. They believe all Americans should have all the healthcare they need and want, just so long as they have the resources to pay for it. As a result, every single GOP presidential candidate’s position on healthcare starts with repeal of Obamacare, but none of them offer even a hint of an alternative. Can you just imagine the chaos and confusion that would ensue in the health-care arena if Obamacare was simply repealed and no viable alternative was available?  

The Democrats, on the other hand, act as though the “right” to have healthcare coverage means that it should be free; as if there was no real cost involved. Can you just imagine how costly and confusing healthcare will be if Obamacare is allowed to continue down its current path?      

The good intentions and objectives of Obamacare were admirable, but for reasons outlined above, the design and implementation of the plan were both botched and it is beyond repair. The longer Obamacare is allowed to stumble down its current path, the more costly and inefficient it will become.  The goal of insuring all Americans at affordable cost will never be met. The Republicans are right – Obamacare should be repealed. But the Republicans are callous and dead wrong to suggest that the healthcare – or lack thereof – for millions of Americans should be left to the caprices of the insurance companies, driven by profit alone. Does it seem fair to you that an individual’s access to reasonable healthcare should not be determined by the weight of their wallet?

There is a Better Path to Healthcare for all Americans

Already in place, time-tested and working effectively (as any government program can) are the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare provides effective and efficient medical care to millions of Americans 65 and over. Medicaid – a combination of state programs funded by the Federal government – provides medical care to millions of low income individuals.

The point is that these two programs have processes and procedures in place and are in point of fact administering healthcare (from private hospitals and physicians) for millions of Americans, but not for all. So the question is: Why not repeal Obamacare and replace it with the two national healthcare programs already in existence and functioning effectively? The simplest and most direct way to offer all Americans basic healthcare at affordable costs is to expand and enroll everyone – at any age – into Medicare or Medicaid.

This can’t be done with a flip of the switch, but an organized expansion phase-in over time could make it happen. For example, in the first year those age 60 to 65 would be eligible for Medicare, then the next phase would include those 55 to 60 and so on until everyone was covered.

Of course, adjustments and changes would have to be made to both systems, but these would be more administrative and cost-control measures. For example, premiums and deductibles for coverage could be adjusted based upon income or wealth. There is no reason why someone making $1 million a year should pay the same premium or deductible as another making $50,000.

There is not space in this blog to delineate all the adjustments that would be required in order to make Medicare and Medicaid work for all Americans, but they are more administrative in nature and don’t go to the core of the programs. Ultimately the Medicare and Medicaid programs could be merged. The point is that we have two time-tested and functioning programs providing healthcare for millions of Americans, so why not just do the right thing and expand them to include all Americans?

Can Everyone be Happy?

Of course not everyone will be happy with these changes, but when is everyone ever happy with any action?

The Republicans are going to have to disabuse themselves of the belief that health care is a privilege and not a right. They accept basic education as a right, why not basic health care? Aren’t both of those part of the Constitutional right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? The reality is that of the 47 largest industrial nations in the world, the United States is the only country that does not consider basic health care as a fundamental right of its citizens. But Republicans can be happy too. They can take credit for repealing Obamacare and swallow the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. After all, every Republican president since Nixon has accepted and expanded Medicare and Medicaid. 

The insurance industry will certainly not be happy. So what?! The insurance companies have had a free-hand to provide health insurance for Americans for over 50 years. They have done a miserable job. If you had lots of money and were in good health, you could buy all the health insurance you wanted. But woe betide the individual who was poor or had a preexisting condition. Besides, the insurance companies could make a ton of money selling supplemental policies (as they do today) that pay the deductibles for Medicare, or for extra care not covered by Medicare.

The hospitals and doctors will not be happy. Don’t be so sure. I have hear many hospital administrators and doctors complain about Obamacare, but I have never heard any complaints about Medicare. Sure, they will complain about Medicare’s attempt to control costs and for not reimbursing the hospital or doctor for what they want to charge for their services. But have you ever heard of a hospital or doctor going bankrupt because Medicare or Medicaid didn’t pay enough for the services they provided?

And the Moral of the Story …

If we (as we should) want to provide effective, affordable healthcare for all Americans – despite age or resources – we have to recognize that, for all its good intentions, Obamacare is not the answer and it should be repealed. Doing nothing or “letting the market determine” who gets coverage is not the answer, either.

But the answer in right in front of us. Medicare and Medicaid has worked for millions of Americans and with just a little effort we can repeal Obamacare and replace it with these systems that have proven to work. So?