Medicaid Now Covers More Americans Than Medicare

Since LBJ signed into law health insurance for elderly people in July, 1965, Medicaid has grown from an oversite, thought to care only for the poor, to the providence of some 74 million Americans–1 in 5–covering their needs from the womb to the grave. Thus, Medicaid is now central to the nation’s healthcare system.

Moderate Republicans were unwilling to gamble with deep cuts in Medicaid and therefore helped doom the GOP’s drive to “Repeal & Replace” the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) aka “Obamacare.” Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), a centrist, noted that almost 1 in 3 of all his constituents were covered by Medicaid. Likewise, Senate Republicans and Republican state governors expressed worry about jeopardizing care for the working poor, children and people with disabilities, and reducing funding for the care of elderly people in nursing homes.

Last week’s doomed GOP bill that would largely have undone the ACA would have ended the open-ended federal funding of the largest share of states’ Medicaid costs and replaced the same with block grants. Block grants were not precisely stipulated, thus the concern that some states would be treated differently or more unfairly than others (see Georgia’s Nathan Deal’s expressed concerns). Moreover, the unanswered question of what states would do if their block grant money ran out in say, month 9 of a 12-month period–simply tell recipients that their care wouldn’t be covered for the last 3 months? Block grants or a fixed-annual sum per recipient were the two options available and either would have clearly led to major cuts in coverage over time.

Nevertheless, many GOP governors and members of Congress intend to continue efforts to curtail Medicaid due to budgetary concerns. In 2015, the total cost of Medicaid nationally was more than $532 billion. The federal government funded about 2/3 (63%) of that and the states picked up the remainder. But, last week’s defeat of the GOP’s AHCA shows how difficult it is to take away an entitlement. This reality prompted Vermont’s Bernie Sanders to again promise to introduce a single-payer act in Congress. Indeed, California is actively considering a single-payer system for its healthcare needs.  States often have different names for the program, but whether you know it as Medi-Cal, MassHealth,or TennCare in Tennessee, it’s just Medicaid by another name. And the percentage of people who support cutting Medicaid spending has never exceeded 13%. Even Donald J. Trump recognized Medicaid’s political potency during his campaign, when he declared that Medicaid should be saved “without cuts” and repeatedly Tweeted support for Medicaid, stating as “wrong” Republicans who wanted to cut Social Security and Medicaid.

Medicaid pays for nursing home care and other long-term care for more than 6 million Americans older than 64 years. But the Republican bill, the AHCA, would have only allowed Medicaid payments to grow per recipient at an inflation rate less than the true inflation rate of health care costs. Thus, the AHCA would have eroded benefits over time. Beneficiaries would have had to re-enroll every six months instead of annually. This threat to the elderly led Florida  Representative Daniel Webster to vote “No” on the legislation. Central Florida constituents in one retirement center alone, The Villages, number greater than 150,000 residents. So, even as Medicaid has gained some hint of a stigma with all the political polarization from the Obama years, the reality that some people can’t afford health insurance whether or not they were “able-bodied” and working has caused even Republican-led states to expand Medicaid coverage. The expansion has helped with the opioid epidemic, birth defects, and the fact that 10,000 Baby-Boomers per day are still turning age 65. So, despite the stigma that, “people don’t deserve [free care],” no one wants to see someone they know lose their healthcare due to unaffordable costs. Perhaps equally as important, Republicans recognized that any bill that would lead to drastic cuts in Medicaid would simply hurt too many of their constituents.

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Initial Glimpses Into Trump’s “Repeal & Replace”

Last week, the House and Senate committees that oversee health policy and GOP leadership released a white paper detailing initial structure of the replacement of large sections of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”). Importantly politically, the plan allows its most critical provisions to be passed through a special budget process that requires only 50 Senate votes. These procedural mechanisms will allow fulfillment of Trump’s promise that repeal and replacement would occur “simultaneously.”

Currently, it appears that the major changes will be to expand the number of Americans who could benefit from federal assistance in buying health insurance coverage. But, the plan will change who benefits most from that federal assistance.

The ACA extended health coverage to 20 million Americans by expanding Medicaid for low income and needy in participating states, and by offering income-based tax credits for middle-income people so they could buy their own insurance. Effectively, Obamacare redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor.

This new GOP plan would alter both those two existing mechanisms. First, it will drastically cut funding for states in providing free insurance through Medicaid to the low income and needy. Secondly, it will change how tax credits are distributed by giving all American not covered through their employment a flat credit. But there’s the sticker: the credit will be determined by age, not income levels, the latter being entirely disregarded in the calculus.

So, the larges financial benefits will go to older Americans. For example, Warren Buffett will get the same amount of financial assistance as someone his age, living in poverty. Likewise, a Trump Cabinet member, 64 year-old multi-millionaire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, if he didn’t have access to government coverage, will get substantially more money than a poor, young person, but the same amount of financial assistance as any given 64 year-old American living in poverty.

To be sure, older people tend to have higher medical bills and so are charged more by insurers even under the ACA. So, matching tax credits to age has a rational basis–to a degree. And the new plan would simplify the current system in that verification of applicant income to optimize just the right amount of financial assistance would be eliminated. And, it would also eliminate incentives for low-income people to avoid earning more to avoid facing a reduction in benefits. But the GOP plan will result in more low-income people losing coverage if they can’t find the money to pay the difference between their tax credit and the actual cost of their health insurance. The ACA is set up to ensure low and middle-income Americans can afford the premiums charged for healthcare insurance.

Moreover, older people without employer-based insurance typically earn more than young people starting out their careers. Independent estimates of similar tax credit plans from Speaker Paul Ryan and Secretary of HHS Tom Price show changes based on tax credits will result in millions losing coverage.

Now, in moving resources from the poor to the rich, limits to deposits in Health Savings Accounts (“HSAs”) will increase. Generally, those with higher incomes paying more in taxes tend to benefit more from HSAs and recent studies show that HSAs are disproportionately held by families with higher earnings. The new program will also eliminate a number of taxes on the health care industry at large.

Curiously, the new plan omits changes to any of the Obamacare regulations the GOP have argued drive up costs of health insurance: the rules including mandates that every plan cover a standard package of benefits, and those requiring companies to charge the same prices to healthy and sick Americans (removal of pre-existing condition penalties). These rules can’t be changed through the budget process and so will require 60 votes in the Senate. It is yet unclear how these proposals will affect Aged, Blind & Disabled Medicaid assistance programs, if at all.

The new plan will undoubtedly change as it moves through committee hearings. But the above seems to set forth the outline of the discussion. So, against this backdrop essentially approved by every major committee working on health care in Congress, it seems that President Trump’s promises to provide a beautiful plan of health insurance for “everybody” are truly speculative.

Medicaid Ranks Highly Among Americans in Poll

A New York Times article from October 9, 2014 reports high satisfaction level from low-income people in three Southern states who use Medicaid.  Respondents preferred Medicaid over private insurance.  The study of residents of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas, found those surveyed preferred Medicaid compared with private coverage as the former offered better “quality of health care” and made them better able to “afford the health care” they needed.  This is the same result reached by repeated surveys showing the program, much maligned as a political target as being substandard, is quite popular among the people who use it.    A 2011 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 86 percent of people who had received Medicaid benefits described the experience as somewhat or very positive. A slightly more recent Kaiser survey showed that 69 percent of Americans earning less than $40,000 a year rated the program important to them or their families. Medicaid’s political opponents would have you believe that its restricted list of doctors and additional red tape make it worse than being uninsured.  But, other pollsters and surveys find Medicaid ranks higher on consumer satisfaction levels than private insurance.

Kaiser’s top pollster says the Medicaid is “surprisingly popular” and has seen the program get high marks from the public for more than 10 years.  The public at large rates Medicaid highly as well, saying that Medicaid is important to them and their families.  Now covering some 67 million Americans, Medicaid is not the country’s largest health insurance program.  Moreover, a Majority of Americans support Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act.  In fact, it’s only when compared to Medicare that Medicaid looks unimpressive, stated Robert Blendon, a public health professor at Harvard University who studies public opinion on health care issues and was a co-author on the subject recent study.

The Harvard researchers said those surveyed gave private coverage the edge when it came to seeing “doctors you want, without having to wait too long” and “to have doctors treat you with care and respect.”  But Medicaid surpassed private insurance on whether the available programs enabled respondents to “be able to afford the health care you need,” and on the overall question of “quality of health care.”

Medicare/Medicaid and the Rising Cost of Sexual Activity for Seniors

As Bill Mahr humorously, but perhaps, ineloquently stated as a “New Rule” last Friday night on his HBO show “Real Time,” the feds have been investigating the rising costs for durable medical equipment to see if certain types of equipment should be added to the competitive bidding list.  Enter the swelling controversy surrounding the penis pump, more formally known as the “vacuum erection system.”  Over the five-six year period between 2006-2011, Medicare paid an average of $451 per pump.  That left a $90 co-pay per patient with Medicare picking up the remaining 80%.  Comparatively, the VA paid only $186 for each device.  And, is anyone surprised that any average shopper could find less expensive pumps online?  Medicare purchased 473,000 pumps over the period investigated.  Predictably, there is controversy underlying adding these devices to the competitive bidding program, as many conservative groups argue that these expenditures are wasteful and detract from true “health” related expenditures.

But, perhaps we shouldn’t jump past the “health” aspects of sex so cavalierly.  Sure, in 2006 Congress barred medications like Viagra from being covered under Medicare Part D, the bill’s sponsor stating he didn’t want to have taxpayers subsidizing “grandpa’s recreational sex.”  But, there is a larger bias here that is arguably being overlooked:  the health aspects of sex in any adult human’s life.  The clear bias exists that seniors are, or should be, asexual.  Yet, how is that any different from the argument against younger, college age women who many on the left have argued should be insured for birth control pills.  It seems at some base level, Americans are just prudish at worst or giggling adolescents in general when it comes to a healthy discussion about human sexuality.  Is sex really just to procreate?  Recent studies say no and that more than half of men and 40% of women over age 65 are sexually active.

So, at least one author urges that we just insist that Medicare not get ripped off by price-gouging device suppliers and continue to cover the devices, perhaps as well Viagra and then the discussion will shift to condoms and safe sex and STD control for seniors as well as the general population.  This all in the name of health and to avoid “ageism.”  At some point, we all must address the limits the system can bear and the “Pentagon-Contractor” nature of the abuse and over-charging that is a huge source of the problems.  One thing is for sure, as millions of Baby-Boomers age into retirement, “No-Sex for Grandpa” rules probably are not going to work.

People All Over the Nation Are Now Using the Affordable Care Act–the White House Wants Their Stories

Expecting a continued battle over health care, the White House moved Wednesday to recruit volunteers for its campaign to defend and promote the law, which is likely to be a defining issue in many congressional races this year. A White House website invites supporters and beneficiaries of the law to provide their names, email addresses and personal experiences.

“Whether you have new coverage today or know someone who does, we want to hear your story,” David Simas, an aide to President Obama, said in an email to people who had expressed interest in the issue.

Jessica Santillo, a White House spokeswoman, said the invitation was part of a systematic new effort by the administration to “highlight stories of everyday Americans benefiting from the law.”

The administration hopes to encourage enrollment and reverse public opinion polls that show approval of the health care law lagging behind disapproval.

Read more:  New York Times Article

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