Tag Archives: Medicaid

Worse Than Making Sausage

Everybody knows the old saw about how the legislative process resembles a sausage factory: even if you like the product, it may turn your stomach to see how it is made. I have been thinking about that metaphor a lot lately as I have watched the Republican caucus in the US House of Representatives slap together their plan to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

As the House lurches toward a critical vote today, I offer a few personal observations:

  • The Republicans have long complained bitterly about how the Democrats “rammed through” the ACA in 2009. This, despite the fact that there were months of negotiations and the bill incorporated many previously mainstream Republican principles (including the individual mandate, which now seems anathema), and the Republicans deliberately walked away as part of their obstructionist strategy to deny President Obama a legislative victory of any sort. It is therefore particularly disturbing to see them scramble to bring this dog of a bill to a vote on some arbitrary self-imposed deadline. What is the rush?
  • Speaking of a dog of a bill (with apologies to dogs everywhere), the only “principle” or “goal” that it advances is checking a box that says “repeal Obamacare.” The challenges facing our health care system are pretty easy to categorize. We need to assure access to care, we need to improve care, and we need to control costs. This bill does none of those things and stands to reverse the progress made by the ACA in providing coverage for millions of Americans.
  • Don’t be fooled by claims of “lower costs.” The only thing this bill would lower is coverage, mostly by throwing millions off of Medicaid, and by stripping covered services from ACA plans. Any accrued “savings” are achieved by just providing less care for those who are in need.
  • The targeting of Planned Parenthood and of reproductive health services, in general, is a shameful demonstration of the deep hypocrisy in the Republican party that has stood for individual choice and limited government (well, at least back when the party stood for anything at all) until it comes to dictating women’s health choices.
  • The proposal is demonstrably, clearly, unambiguously and completely at odds with the President’s stated goal of “repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something beautiful” that “covers everybody.”
  • Mostly, I am saddened by this rush to do harm, driven by political expediency, facilitated by ignorance, and leavened by a callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of our fellow citizens

What do you think?

Who’s in Charge Here?

I spent a couple of hours today discussing a topic that has become increasingly important in the world in which we live, and which would have completely mystified an earlier generation of physicians. The subject was “attribution.” Simply put, how should one decide which patients “belong” to which doctors? On a more technical level, what algorithms should be employed to connect patients, or episodes of care for those patients, or specific quality measures pertaining to those patients, to particular physicians?

Here’s why this is a hot topic. CMS is moving rapidly to alternative payment models. Medicaid is transitioning to a capitated system. Commercial payers are entering into “risk” arrangements with providers. All around us, fee for service is losing sway and is being replaced by a spectrum of new ways to pay for care. In the “old world” of fee for service, whoever provided the service got the fee. There was no mystery about how the dollars should flow. In the “new world” all that changes. In many instances, payments are linked to quality measures. So, for example, physician groups or integrated health systems may be subject to penalties or earn bonuses depending on how “their” patients do. Too many readmissions? Penalty. Excellent blood pressure control? Bonus. Simple enough in theory but complicated in practice.
Continue reading Who’s in Charge Here?

Not Your Father’s Medicare

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, the most contentious provisions – which are still the subject of challenges in federal courts – were the establishment of state-wide insurance exchanges, the “individual mandate” that compels eligible citizens to buy insurance, and the expansion of state Medicaid programs. Less well appreciated, but arguably more important, were a wide range of reforms to the Medicare program. Summarized here, they touch on almost all aspects of the program, but I want to concentrate on just one.

The law directed CMS to move Medicare from a strictly fee-for-service (FFS) payment model (“paying for volume”) to one in which the quality of care was factored into the payment received by hospitals and physicians (“paying for value”). As I have written previously I believe this is the right move. There are just too many challenges to improving care and lowering costs that derive from “straight” FFS that is disconnected from any assessment of quality. And while you may not have known that they grew out of the ACA, the payment reforms themselves have gotten a lot of attention. Penalties for readmissions, requirements for physician quality reporting, pilot programs for bundled payments and accountable care organizations are just of few of the Medicare reforms. Even though they currently influence a small percentage of overall Medicare spending, these changes may already be having a big impact on how care is delivered.

Continue reading Not Your Father’s Medicare

Functioning Health Exchanges

There has been a lot of understandable outrage over the troubles plaguing Healthcare.gov, the federal website for purchasing individual or family health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Opponents of the law (Republicans), recovering from their self-inflicted wounds over the government shutdown, see this as evidence of the fundamental unworkability of the law, and of the folly of a “government solution” to a complex problem. Supporters of the law (Democrats) are terrified that the difficulty in buying insurance will dissuade the so-called “young invincibles” (healthy young people who have limited needs for health care services) from buying coverage. Continue reading Functioning Health Exchanges

Week Two

The irony continues. The federal government is “shut down” but health insurance exchanges at the center of the law that provoked Republicans to hold the country hostage have been up and running, and attracting a lot of interest. Although there have been some well-publicized (and expected) technical glitches, millions of people have visited State and Federal websites to learn more about their options for purchasing health insurance.

At the same time, the New York Times reported this week that millions of other citizens, who have incomes too low to qualify for subsidized private insurance on the exchanges, will continue to be uninsured. Remember that the Affordable Care Act was designed to expand health insurance coverage in two ways: for those with the lowest incomes, states were offered new funds from the federal government to expand Medicaid, which would have covered nearly all of the new expense at the outset, and about 90% thereafter. For those with higher incomes, the exchanges were created to provide new access to private insurance and subsidies based on income. Continue reading Week Two

Opening Day

October 1 marks what should be an important milestone in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), informally known as “Obamacare.” Sadly, this has been overshadowed and even threatened by irresponsible and reactionary posturing by Republican members of the US House of Representatives.

Today was supposed to be the day that a signature element of the legislation was realized – the opening of Web-based “exchanges” through which individuals without employer-provided health insurance could purchase it from private insurance companies with progressive government subsidies based on income. Together with federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid, the patch-quilt of state health insurance programs for the poor, the goal of providing affordable (get it?) insurance to nearly all citizens was to be achieved. Instead, the news is filled with talk of a government shutdown or even a default on repaying federal debt, either of which would be a completely avoidable, self-inflicted wound to our prosperity. Continue reading Opening Day

The Oregon Medicaid Experiment: A Success or Failure?

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2013;368:1713-22) has been getting a lot of press lately, and not because it reported on a new blockbuster drug. Rather, it reported the results of an unusual – and unintended – experiment about the utility of Medicaid.

A little background: one of the cornerstones of the affordable care act (aka “Obamacare”) is the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to include more low-income individuals. Since Medicaid is a state-run program partially financed with federal funds (as opposed to the “fully federal” Medicare program), eligibility has traditionally varied widely by state with much more generous eligibility and coverage in states like New York (read “blue states”) than say, Alabama. Continue reading The Oregon Medicaid Experiment: A Success or Failure?