Archive for April, 2009

Public Support for a Public Plan Option

The Kaiser Family Foundation released its April polling information last week and guess what? The most popular reform option was to expand Medicare to the uninsured aged 55 – 64. That reform is strongly favored by 53%, and another 26% of those polled say they somewhat favor such an expansion.

A public plan option is favored by 67% of those polled, though only 34% are strongly in favor of a public plan. Additionally, 57% of people questioned thought having a public plan option would cause the private plans to do a better job.

Do we think that Congress will listen?

April 28, 2009 at 6:59 pm 3 comments

What Kind of Help is That?

Medicare beneficiaries are fighting back against decades of delays in processing benefits that have caused them to make hard choices between health care and other necessities of life. 

66 year old Narcisa Garcia, a resident of Pennsylvania, lives on $695 a month, just about 75% of the federal poverty rate.  Paying her Medicare Part B premium reduces her tiny income to $599 per month.  Yet Ms. Garcia should not have to pay her Part B premium; she is one of millions of low income Medicare beneficiaries entitled to help from one of the programs that pays for Medicare cost-sharing.  Although she is eligible for benefits from Pennsylvania going back to November 2008, six months later, in April 2009, she is still paying her Part B premium.  Some people may be able afford to float loans to the federal government, but not those living on less than $700 a month.

On April 24th, Ms. Garcia and another Medicare beneficiary, together with two advocacy organizations filed suit against the federal government and the state of Pennsylvania claiming that the harmful and illegal delays in processing enrollments for benefits denied them their rights under federal law. Narcisa Garcia, et al. v. Charles E. Johnson, et al. 2:09-cv-01747 (AB) E.D. Pa. (Complaint filed April 24, 2009). 

The programs to help low-income beneficiaries have existed since the beginning of Medicare and Medicaid, in 1965, but were beefed up in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Medicare cost-sharing increased significantly. For decades, they have suffered from serious delays in processing enrollments that leave people footing their own bills for months or even years after they have been found eligible for the benefits. 

The Center for Medicare Advocacy and the Philadelphia-based Community Legal Services are representing the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to recognize the case as a class action, to declare the government’s practices illegal, to require that benefits are provided promptly, to notify beneficiaries of delays in processing, and to notify beneficiaries that they might be entitled to a refund of back benefits.  They are asking, in other words, that the programs do what they are supposed to do: help people.

April 27, 2009 at 5:38 pm 2 comments

From the Desk of Judith Stein….

Update: Real reform still possible

Apparently the President will support use of the Senate “Reconciliation” process to move health care reform if the super-majority of 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster can’t be garnered to pass a good plan. We heard this last week from a senior senator – he hoped a bipartisan vote would be possible, but indicated that certain principles need to be met by any health care bill, and that Reconciliation would be considered if those principles would otherwise be sacrificed.  Amen to that.

Let’s not accept “something’s better than nothing” again!  That mantra helped pass the 2003 law that gave us private Medicare Advantage, Part D, and windfalls for corporations – at the expense of Medicare participants and taxpayers. Been there, done that.  This time we need a good plan with a solid public option that puts people above profits.

___

April 24th

CMA Health Policy Consultants’ contacts in DC indicate that a public option in health care reform is in jeopardy. Is it possible that after all the problems Medicare has had with private plans, and the plans’ exorbitant additional costs, that we will actually let corporate greed trump the interests of sick people and taxpayers once again?

April 27, 2009 at 11:11 am 2 comments

NY Times: Can Real Health Reform Pass?

As lead health reporter Robert Pear wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, the possibility of a new health insurance program with a public option may be in danger. This is a dismaying prospect; those who know about the benefits of a public plan need to be heard.

You can read the full article here, below is an excerpt.

“With solid majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats are tempted to use their political muscle to speed passage of health care legislation with minimal concessions to the Republican minority.

That approach may be the only way they can fulfill President Obama’s campaign promises, but it carries high risks as well.

In the budget blueprint for the coming year, Democrats may resort to an obscure procedure known as reconciliation to clear the way for Senate passage of a comprehensive health bill with a 51-vote majority, rather than the 60 votes that would otherwise be needed.

‘It may be a struggle to get to 60,’ said Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, who is working on the legislation….

A health care bill written mainly or entirely by Democrats would almost surely create a new public health insurance program, to compete with private insurers. It would require employers to provide insurance to employees or contribute to its cost. Employers who already offer insurance could be required to provide more or different benefits, and Congress could limit the tax breaks now available for such employer-provided insurance.”

April 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

Improve Medicare for the Health of Our Country

As discussions regarding health care and Medicare reform heat up, the Center for Medicare Advocacy reminds policy-makers that Medicare, the country’s only national health insurance, has a lot to teach about how best to provide health care coverage cost-effectively – and how not to.

For over 40 years, until it was morphed into a system of expensive private plans in 2003, Medicare was a resoundingly successful public/private partnership. Before Medicare began in 1965, half of all older people had no health insurance and nearly 35% lived in poverty. Today, poverty among older people has dropped by two-thirds and the vast majority of Americans over 65 and people with significant disabilities have Medicare health insurance.

Our top priority must certainly be getting the economy back on track. But improving Medicare is an essential part of that effort. Good Medicare reform could help save taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries billions of dollars, while also improving access to health care. The following improvements could cut costs and also improve quality of care:

1.  Eliminate the wasteful subsidies being paid by taxpayers to keep private Medicare Advantage plans afloat. According to the President’s budget, this would save approximately $176 billion over the next ten years. Numerous studies from the Congressional Budget Office, MedPAC, scholars, and foundations report that it costs about 14% more to provide care through private Medicare Advantage plans than through the traditional public Medicare program. Further, administrative costs account for approximately 11% of private Medicare spending, compared to approximately 2% in the traditional Medicare program. This kind of wasteful spending can not be justified, especially now, when the country’s economy is reeling, taxpayers are scrimping, and millions of Americans are underinsured or lack health insurance altogether.

2.  Repeal the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which is currently provided only by private companies, and replace it with a stable prescription drug benefit in traditional Medicare, modeled after Part B, that reflects beneficiaries’ needs instead of business interests. At the very least, a prescription drug benefit should be added to the traditional Medicare program, as proposed by the Medicare Prescription Drug Savings and Choice Act of 2009 (HR 684).

Whatever form the Medicare prescription drug benefit takes, Medicare should be mandated to negotiate prices on behalf of all 45 million beneficiaries. As any Walmart shopper knows, buying in bulk drives prices down. Amazingly, however, the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 explicitly prohibits Medicare from negotiating prices for the medications it covers; this prohibition should be repealed and replaced with a requirement to negotiate prices.

3. Add a coordinated care benefit to traditional Medicare so health care providers can be reimbursed for communicating with each other about patient care and primary care providers can coordinate the various aspects of individual patient needs. This kind of care coordination is a key component of health and wellness and should be built into traditional Medicare.

Other Medicare coverage and policy changes for low-tech services ought to be considered that will help people stay as well as possible as long as possible – and in the community. This is not only good common sense and good for the individual, it would also help lower health care costs by reducing the need for higher cost care.  Examples of these kinds of services, currently lacking Medicare coverage include:

  • Coverage for annual physicals and preventive care that meets contemporary standards of care;
  • Coverage for home health aide care for people who need these hands-on services in order to live at home, but do not need regular nursing or physical or speech therapy;
  • Coverage for quality discharge planning for individuals leaving a hospital for community care, home health care, or nursing home care, including post discharge monitoring to ensure the intended follow-up care is actually provided
  • Coverage for basic dental care, including an annual check-up;
  • Consistent coverage, as required by law, for on-going therapy and nursing services to maintain the function of people with chronic conditions.

The standard for any health care program should be what’s best for its beneficiaries and what’s most cost-effective for taxpayers. Until it was privatized, Medicare met that standard; it worked well for older people and people with disabilities, and it was cost effective for taxpayers. Medicare should be improved again to offer access to necessary care in the most cost-efficient manner possible.

April 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

Health Care Reformers Should Learn from Medicare

President Obama’s March 5th Health Care Summit was a welcome step towards enacting health care reform. Hopefully, this kind of inclusive engagement will allow different interests to coalesce and commit to ensuring that all Americans have health care coverage. Unfortunately, recent reports about plans for healthcare reform indicate that we may be about to repeat past mistakes – to the detriment of people needing care and of taxpayers.

As the discussions regarding health care reform continue, and decisions are made, the Center for Medicare Advocacy reminds policy-makers that Medicare, the country’s only experiment with national health insurance, has a lot to teach about how best to provide health care coverage for all.

For over 40 years, until it was morphed into a system of expensive private plans in 2003, Medicare was a resoundingly successful public/private partnership. Before Medicare began in 1965, half of all older people had no health insurance and nearly 35% lived in poverty. Today, poverty among older people has dropped by two-thirds and the vast majority of Americans over 65 and people with significant disabilities have Medicare health insurance.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy urges reformers to develop a public option in any final health care legislation. With some updating and adjustments, the public/private partnership of the traditional Medicare program could serve as that option. President Obama, Congress, and those who are able to participate in serious efforts to reform health care coverage should look to the lessons from Medicare Parts C and D. Let’s not repeat the mistakes made in those programs – specifically, the enormous complexity and excessive costs resulting from multiple private plans. People want choices of health care providers, not health insurance plans.

Reformers should learn from Medicare’s past and present. Medicare Parts C and D moved Medicare much too aggressively toward private plans, alienating and confusing many beneficiaries, costing taxpayers billions of unnecessary dollars, and threatening Medicare’s viability.

Rather than repeating those errors on a grand scale, we should look instead to traditional Medicare which balances a public program with a private claims processing infrastructure. That is a reasonable model for a national health plan. The traditional Medicare program – with the addition of a cap on out-of pocket spending and phased in coverage for coordinated care, dental, vision, hearing services and long-term care – could serve as the basis for a national health plan.

The standard for any health care program should be what’s best for its beneficiaries and what’s most cost-effective for taxpayers. Until it was privatized, Medicare met that standard; it worked well for older people and people with disabilities, and it was cost effective for taxpayers. A Medicare model with appropriate fine-tuning could also work to provide health care for all Americans.

April 22, 2009 at 8:20 pm 2 comments


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